Saturday, November 12, 2005

Management's Great Loss

It will be a severe blow to Claremont Graduate University. Its star died yesterday. He was ninety-five so it could not have been a shock.

Peter F. Drucker, called a "management guru" by Associated Press, died of natural causes in Claremont, CA. I feel as though I lost a friend. No, maybe a mentor. While I did not know The Professor personally, I read nearly everything he wrote, listened to his tapes, and even attended one of his lectures (I already had an MBA degree). Dr. Drucker helped prepare me for higher roles in management with his no-nonsense, yet philosophical style.

I can recall lots of quotes from Dr. Drucker. One that stuck in my mind concerned Industrial Psychology, a field in which many managers were taking interest forty years ago.. He said, in effect, "I do not know anything about psychology except that what is apparent to one person, another person does not understand all." I took it to be a warning that we managers should not spend our time worrying about so arcane a topic. On this basis I put my psychology books on a back shelf. (Having been on General Electric's corporate staff at the time, I had to keep up appearances and take some slight interest.)

Nearly all the lower level texts on management contained some industrial psychological lore. When I taught a few semesters of management at a local university, we studied the basics, but I told my graduate and undergraduate students what Dr. Drucker had said about psychology. I was always glad that I did.

Starting about 1955, we managers and aspiring managers at General Electric (and I suspect also at General Motors) spent much of our after-work hours studying and discussing Dr. Drucker's books. I have no doubt the successful CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch, owed Drucker a great deal.

The Professor was one of the few visionaries who recognized that management was a separate field of professional endeavor, with its own disciplines. He also saw huge discontinuities in the American and world economies, including the "Knowledge Industry," especially computers.

There is never enough room to describe all Dr. Drucker's achievements. There were so many. And there are some questions, too. He helped General Motors to be a viable producer of transportation vehicles for many years. Now seriously in trouble with huge liabilities due to retired employee costs, GM faces possible ruin. One can only wonder if Dr. Drucker warned GM management about the pending crisis that attends a socialist-leaning company which tries to pay all its former employee pension and health-care costs when employees are now living longer than anyone thought possible.

If anyone saw this disaster coming, it was Dr. Peter F. Drucker. The world of management will miss him terribly.


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