A Class with Drucker: The Lost Lessons of the World's Greatest Management Teacher

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Hailed as “a warm and useful read,” A Class with Drucker brings to life invaluable advice from the world’s greatest thinker and writer on management. From 1975 to 1979, author William Cohen studied under the great Peter Drucker and became the first graduate of his doctoral program. What Drucker taught him literally changed his life. In a matter of a few years, he was recommissioned in the Air Force and rose to the rank of major general. Eventually, he became a full professor, management consultant, multibook author, and university president—all while maintaining a nearly lifelong friendship with the master.

In A Class with Drucker, Cohen shares many of Drucker’s teachings that never made it into his countless books and articles, ideas that were offered to his students in classroom or informal settings. Cohen expands on Drucker’s lessons with personal anecdotes about his teacher’s personality, lack of pretension, and interactions with students and others. He also shows how Drucker’s ideas can be applied to the real-world challenges managers face today. Enlightening and intriguing, this book will enable anyone to gain from the timeless wisdom of the inspiring man himself.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Entertaining and enlightening, this book is for any school leader interested in gaining fresh perspectives and seeking wisdom with practical applications." --The School Administrator

Library Journal

Cohen (The New Art of the Leader), a graduate of Peter Drucker's executive Ph.D. program in management at Claremont Graduate University, offers Drucker's "lost" classroom lessons as remembered and used by Cohen throughout his career. Arguably one of the most influential management theorists ever, Drucker was also an unforgettable teacher. Cohen's early chapters on his own personal history and Drucker's teaching style get the book off to a slow start, but subsequent chapters provide solid lessons on building self-confidence, refusing to accept "accepted" knowledge, approaching problems with your ignorance (a particular Drucker favorite, employed when he famously asked General Electric CEO Jack Welch to analyze his own business), creating rather than predicting the future, and motivating knowledge workers. Each chapter recalls Drucker's lectures, business examples, insights from Drucker's life and work, and a "Drucker Lesson Summary." The result is a somewhat overlong but still useful volume, especially for Drucker fans. Recommended for academic libraries, particularly those supporting business and MBA programs, and for public libraries with a high population of business readers.
—Sarah Statz Cords

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814414187
  • Publisher: AMACOM Books
  • Publication date: 3/4/2009
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

William A. Cohen, Ph.D. (Pasadena, CA) is an authority on leadership and strategy formulation and deployment. He is the author of many books including The New Art of the Leader, The Wisdom of the Generals, and How to Make It Big as a Consultant (978-0-8144-7073-2).

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Read an Excerpt


Peter Drucker was a true genius—an amazing individual who changed modern management forever. He wrote forty books and numerous articles. There are thousands of references to him and his work, hundreds of articles about him, and several books, too. Why then this book? Although so much has been written about Drucker, his consulting work, and his philosophies, little has been written about how or what he taught in the classroom.

Peter Drucker was my professor in probably the first executive PhD program in management in academic history. I was his student from 1975 to 1979, and the first graduate of this program at Claremont Graduate School, which today is known as the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management and is part of Claremont Graduate University. This was a program to which Peter committed his life from the first class. Our relationship continued through the years until shortly before his death.

To say that I learned much from Peter Drucker would be a gross understatement. What he taught literally changed my life. When I met him I was a young struggling ex–Air Force officer only recently involved in business management, with no academic experience at all. Beginning with my graduation from Claremont’s program, and following many of Peter’s lessons that are contained in this book, I was re-commissioned in the Air Force Reserve and rose to the rank of major general. I entered academia and eventually became a full professor and a university president, even teaching several times at my alma mater as an adjunct professor. In fact, at one time when Peter was not teaching at Claremont in 1985, and I was, he allowed me to use his office. I became an author and wrote books which were published in eighteen languages. Peter was generous enough to call my books “scholarly.” For all this, though he would deny it, I credit Peter Drucker.

A Class with Drucker contains my recollections of what it was like to be in a Drucker class as a Drucker student during this early period. I have used my notes, old papers, and other information to reconstruct some of his lectures and our conversations to give the reader the best picture possible of how things actually were. I have tried to come close to capturing his actual words, but in any case, I believe I achieved the spirit of what he said and how he said it. My aim is to put the reader in the classroom as if he were there with me at the time hearing Drucker and participating in every interaction I had with him.

I debated whether to re-read Peter’s books before writing this book. I decided not to do so in order not to corrupt my perception of what he taught at the time. I occasionally referred to my well-worn copy of Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices to jog my memory about a particular lesson, as this was our only textbook when I was his student, and even this volume was not always helpful, since much of what Drucker taught in the classroom was not in his books, or had a somewhat different emphasis.

I didn’t want to stop with just what Peter taught, but what I did with his knowledge. Peter did not tell us how to do things. He frequently taught as he consulted, by asking questions. That showed us what to do and got us thinking how to do it ourselves. So, after explaining Peter’s lesson, I have tried to bridge this final gap by giving the reader my interpretation of what Peter meant and how I used and applied his teaching, and perhaps how the reader can as well.

The first chapter of the book tells much of my background at the time and how I came to be the first executive doctorial graduate of the “Father of Modern Management.” The second chapter sets the background of the Drucker classroom and explains how Peter taught. Chapters 3 through 19 cover a variety of Peter’s lessons, from “What Everyone Knows is Frequently Wrong” (Chapter 3) to “Drucker’s Principles of Development” (Chapter 19), and how to apply them.

Peter Drucker was a man not only of great ability and insight, but of great integrity. I have tried to be true to his story and my own as his student. At this point, Peter would have said, “Enough. If your book is worth anything, let’s get on with it.” I hope you agree that it is.

Bill Cohen—June, 2007


Excerpted from A Class with Drucker by William A Cohen. Copyright © 2008 by William a Cohen. Published by AMACOM Books, a division of American Management Association, New York, NY. Used with permission.

All rights reserved. http://www.amacombooks.org.

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Table of Contents


Acknowledgments and Dedication vii

What Peter Drucker Wrote About Bill Cohen viii

Foreword by Ira Jackson ix

Introduction xiii

1 How I Became the Student of the

Father of Modern Management 1

2 Drucker in the Classroom 11

3 What Everybody Knows Is Frequently Wrong 19

4 Self-Confidence Must Be Built Step-by-Step 30

5 If You Keep Doing What Worked in the Past You’re Going to Fail 44

6 Approach Problems with Your Ignorance—Not Your Experience 57

7 Develop Expertise Outside Your Field to Be an Effective Manager 69

8 Outstanding Performance Is Inconsistent with Fear of Failure 82

9 The Objective of Marketing Is to Make Selling Unnecessary 96

10 Ethics, Honor, Integrity and the Law 108

11 You Can’t Predict the Future, But You Can Create It 121

12 We’re All Accountable 133

13 You Must Know Your People to Lead Them 147

14 People Have No Limits, Even After Failure 160

15 A Model Organization That Drucker Greatly Admired 173

16 The Management Control Panel 189

17 Base Your Strategy on the Situation, Not on a Formula 201

18 How to Motivate the Knowledge Worker 215

19 Drucker’s Principles of Self-Development 231

Afterword 246

Notes 249

Books by and About Peter Drucker 252

Index 253

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 15, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    More Peter Drucker for those of us needing help

    You probably cannot get too much Peter Drucker. This is a great book. I found some nuggets that otherwise might have gone undiscovered. Like the great piece on Peter and Jack Welch and the "two questions."

    Great reading. A great gift for the business leader or entrepreneur.

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