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Michael Hiltzik: One hundred years of Peter Drucker

December 30, 2009 |  7:50 pm

The basic text I used for the lessons from the oeuvre of Peter Drucker, the subject of my last column for calendar 2009, is "The Essential Drucker," a 2001 digest of Drucker's writings dating to 1954, selected by himself. It's as good an introduction as exists to the clarity and breadth of this social philosopher and trenchant thinker on management.

It has been well said of Drucker that much of his work boils down to common sense. That's true as far as it goes, but it's also a testament to how resistant to common sense business leaders can be. They're confronted every day by countervailing forces: political and economic ideologies, pressures to make a quarterly number, the influence of one's own stock option grants. 

Drucker was always very good at showing the limitations of classical economics as a management tool. Milton Friedman could talk about maximizing shareholder value as the one and only purpose of the corporation; Drucker's response would be, properly, that nothing in that principle would tell a CEO what his business did or how to make it grow. That's because Friedman's contention was directed at the wrong end of the business chain. "Securities analysts believe that companies make money," Drucker once wrote. "Companies make shoes." Milton Friedman never taught a CEO how to make more profitable shoes; Peter Drucker did.

The column begins below.

The mark of a truly revolutionary thinker is that his revolution has to be fought anew in every generation. 

That’s the case with Peter F. Drucker, whose teachings on business management retain their startling wisdom four years after his death at the age of 95 and seven decades after the publication of his first book — the first of 39.

This year was the centenary of Peter Drucker’s birth. It wouldn’t be right to let the year expire without reviewing how his ideas apply to business today.

As is true with every revolutionary thinker, Drucker’s most enduring ideas contradict conventional wisdom. That’s why business leaders need to relearn his lessons every few years, and that’s why his insights seem perennially fresh.

Read the whole column.

-- Michael Hiltzik