Peter Drucker, Management Theorist, Author, Consultant, 1909-2005

Peter Drucker

Peter Drucker was not a ChicagoBoy. In fact, he was an Austrian Boy, though not part of any school. Still he was a product of the same intellectual milieu that produced Hayek and Schumpeter, two men who were polymaths and would not be limited by the technical boundaries of economics. Drucker was not an economist, though he dealt with issues which overlap with economics. In the course of his career discussing the theory and practice of business management, he often asserted the limits of economics and the need to draw on other disciplines to manage well and effectively and humanely. Meanwhile, at Chicago, Economics was, as George Stigler put it, “the Imperial Science”, invading and annexing the other areas of the social sciences. But Drucker was not so much interested in generating theories, as in peering into the fog and discerning the trends which were shaping and changing the world that real businesspeople had to deal with. He was an inductive thinker, not a system-builder. In particular, Drucker saw early that the older world in which vast masses of people were engaged in making things in large, hierarchic organisations, was swiftly fading, with a world of “knowledge workers” taking its place. We have still not come to grips with this social earthquake, though the Europeans are far worse off than we are. Drucker’s older book The Effective Executive is still a good and useful guide. His early book The Concept of the Corporation, from 1946, is an extremely interesting insight into the nature of American business and its role in American society, at a key hinge moment. His autobiography, Memoirs of a Bystander is a good read, touching on many aspects of American business and government from World War II up to the turn of the Millenium, done mostly as a series of vignettes of people he has known and worked with; some famous and some not. I have only flipped through some of his other books, which always seemed intelligent and full of astute and unusual observations.

Rest in peace.

(Good interview here. The wiki article is also good.)

Update: Lots of Drucker material over on our colleague David Foster’s blog, Photon Courier: here and here and here and here.

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