The World According to Peter Drucker

The World According to Peter Drucker

by Jack Beatty, Peter Ferdinand Drucker

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Peter Drucker's influence is global: his twenty-nine books have sold over five million copies, and they have been translated into nearly every language in the world. His views on management industrial organization, business strategy, leadership development and employee motivation have tutored not just companies but countries -- Drucker served as a guru to the


Peter Drucker's influence is global: his twenty-nine books have sold over five million copies, and they have been translated into nearly every language in the world. His views on management industrial organization, business strategy, leadership development and employee motivation have tutored not just companies but countries -- Drucker served as a guru to the postwar Japanese economic miracle -- and he has an earned reputation for forecasting future social and economic trends. His concepts and coinages are the stuff of contemporary management thought; they include "privatization" "the knowledge worker" "management by objectives" "postmodern" and "discontinuity" as a principle to understand this era of vertiginous change. Drucker's ideas and books gain authority from his work as a management consultant; for fifty years he has immersed himself in the management challenges of Fortune 500 corporations, museums, charitable foundations, churches, hospitals, small businesses, universities, governments, and even baseball teams -- Yogi Berra was once a client.

The World According to Peter Drucker is the first biography and concise intellectual portrait of one of the twentieth century's great minds -- "the greatest thinker management theory has produced" in the words of The Economist. Written with Drucker's full cooperation, the book ranges over six decades of Drucker's work from his early antifascist writings to his very latest books. The reader learns the inside story of why Drucker's classic study of General Motors, Concept of the Corporation, was scorned by GM's storied chairman, Alfred P. Sloan; watches over Drucker's shoulder as he virtually invents management and management theory; and notes the recurring paradox of Drucker's career: the "man who invented the corporate society" has been a sometimes sulphuric critic of capitalist excess. Indeed, Drucker, the author writes, should be seen as "a moralist of our business civilization."

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
For more than 50 years, prolific thinker Drucker (Managing in a Time of Great Change, LJ 10/15/95) has studied business organizations. Among his many accomplishments, he is credited with starting the discipline of management. Beatty, a senior editor at the Atlantic Monthly, a frequent venue for Drucker's writings, evaluates Drucker's thought through a chronological review of his major books. Beatty clearly admires much of Drucker's insight and prescience, but he does not let that blind him to his subject's occasional missteps in interpretation or fact. At times he veers beyond a discussion of management into the dismal science of economics, yet the writing is still clear and understandable from the high school level on up. This is the first book on Drucker in ten years and a good survey of a major late 20th-century thinker. Although he is not now as well known as certain more faddish management gurus, there is more substance here. Recommended for circulating collections in public libraries and strongly recommended for two-year and other academic libraries.Patrick J. Brunet, Western Wisconsin Technical Coll. Lib., La Crosse
NY Times Book Review
Taking Drucker seriously as an intellectual, Beatty finds him ambivalent about capitalism, disappointed in management's social irresponsibility, and engaged with the thought of Keirkegaard.

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Chapter 1 A Singular Education

Peter Drucker's earliest memory captures one of the worst moments of the twentieth century. He was in the children's bathroom, just above his father's study, and through the heating register he could hear three voices. One belonged to his father, the senior civil servant in the Ministry of Economics of the Austro-Hungarian government; the second to his uncle, one of Vienna's leading jurists; the third to Thomas Masaryk, the future president of Czechoslovakia. Not yet five, Peter couldn't be sure who, but one of them clearly said, "This is the end not just of Austria, but of civilization." It was August 1914. The Great War had just begun.

Earlier that summer the Druckers -- his father, Adolph, his mother, Caroline, and his younger brother, Gerhart -- taking a long-planned vacation on the Adriatic seashore, had barely settled on the beach when news came of the Archduke Ferdinand's assassination in Sarejevo. The assassin was a terrorist operating from (though not, as it turned out, for), the independent country of Serbia, which bordered Bosnia, a province of Austria-Hungary since 1908. Serbia was protected by Russia, which was tied by treaty to France as France was to Britain and as Austria-Hungary was to Germany. The war party in Vienna seized on the assassination, for which they held Serbia responsible, as a pretext for crushing Serbia, a long-time imperial goal. The twisting fuse of alliances, however, worked against localization of the conflict to the Balkans. Any Austrian retaliation against Serbia risked general European war.

A colleague sent Adolph Drucker a telegram urging him to return to Vienna immediately to stop the rush toward war. (So Adolph later told his son, who remembered only his mother's funny bathing suit from that shrouded holiday.) The "known liberals and pacifists" in the ranks of the senior civil servants, Adolph said, had taken it upon themselves "to lobby our ministers, buttonhole politicians, try to get to the old emperor through the wall of equally old courtiers," to head off the catastrophe. They failed: by declaring war on Serbia and shelling the Serbian capital, Belgrade, Austria-Hungary struck the fateful match.

The war haunted Peter Drucker's childhood, though, as we will see, it also expedited his career as a writer. He and his friends taught themselves to read "by scanning the casualty lists and the obituaries with the big black borders, looking for names we knew, names of people we loved and missed." To them war was a permanent condition of the world. "None of us could imagine that the war would ever end," Drucker recalls. "Indeed every boy my age knew that 'When I grow up' meant 'When I get drafted and sent to the front.'"

A few years later, when Drucker was a senior in high school, his class was assigned to review the first crop of books to appear on the war. "When we then discussed class, one of my fellow students said, 'Every one of these books says that the Great War was a war of total military incompetence. Why was it?' Our teacher did not hesitate a second but shot right back, 'Because not enough generals were killed; they stayed way behind the lines and let others do the fighting and dying.'" In this the members of Drucker's generation shared something in common with the generals. They were spared. Drucker is conscious of his luck in being too young to be used as cannon fodder by those murderously incompetent generals. "Those of us who have been spared the horrors in which our age specializes," he wrote in Landmarks of Tomorrow (1959), "who have never suffered total war, slave-labor camp or police terror, not only owe thanks; we owe charity and compassion."

If the war brought fear, the peace brought hunger. The winter of 1919-1920 was grim. "Like practically every child in Vienna," Drucker writes in his sparkling autobiography, Adventures of a Bystander (1979), "I was saved by Herbert Hoover whose feeding organization provided school lunches. They left me with a lasting aversion to porridge and cocoa -- but definitely saved my life and that of millions of children throughout Continental Europe." An "organization" did all that good. One sees the biographical roots of Drucker's concept of organization as an instrument of human creativity.

The Hoover mission, noteworthily, was also a triumph of management, though the word was unknown in its current sense then. As we will see, Peter Drucker would explore one of the largest organizations in the world, General Motors, in his career-long inquiry into history's first "society of organizations" and the role of management in that society. More, in the "manager" he would discover an unacknowledged author of modernity, a culture hero to rival the totemic figure of the artist.

The Druckers lived in suburban Vienna in a modish house built for them by a prominent Viennese architect. Through the mansard window of his first grown-up room under the eaves, Peter could see, past the local vineyards, the hills of the Vienna Woods. The Druckers were "good class" professional people. Adolph was an economist and lawyer; Caroline had studied medicine -- quite rare for a woman in the Austria of those days, and they shared their professional interests with their children. "My father had a dinner party every Monday," Drucker says. "There were often economists, ranking civil servants, even a major international lawyer." Later in the week, his mother held a medical dinner. There were musical dinners (his grandmother was a soloist with the Vienna Philharmonic under the baton of Gustav Mahler) and literary dinners. Improbably, there were even mathematics dinners: "My father and mother were very interested in mathematics and philosophy." Imagine trying to wring conviviality out of calculus.

At one dinner he heard a medical eminence attack Freud, then the most famous man in Vienna, for his unfeeling detachment from his suffering patients -- a breach of the physician's "sacred duty" to be a compassionate healer. At another a "moderately pro-Freudian" psychologist and young Oskar Morgenstern, destined for Princeton, where he became "the foremost authority on statistical theory," debated a study of the therapeutic efficacy of psychoanalysis, the psychologist saying it showed promising results, Morgenstern entering a statistical demur: "Not so, if you go by the figures, then there are either no emotional illnesses at all or the trust of the patient in any method makes the patient feel better, regardless of method." To which another dinner guest, a surgeon (inevitably), responded, "In either case there is as yet no valid Freudian psychotherapy which a physician can recommend or use in good conscience." Readers of Drucker, curious about his penchant for scientific and, especially, medical metaphors, need look no further than those evenings.

His literary allusions -- Jane Austen nimbly surfacing in a discussion of the evolution of military technology; or Henry James adding a dollop of unlikely relevance on the topic of the industrial working class -- spring from a similar social-cultural source. Besides the standard elevated fare he was fed at home, young Peter was also a habitué of a salon presided over by one of the Druckers' closest friends. There he heard the American journalist, Dorothy Thompson, discuss current affairs; saw Count Helmuth Moltke, who would be "at the center of the resistance to Hitler," display "the magnetism of the born leader"; and listened, bored, as Thomas Mann read his short novel Disorder and Early Sorrow. Culture was also heavily laid on every Christmas and New Years, when a leading Viennese actress, Maria Mueller, dined with the Druckers and then recited from memory scenes from Greek tragedy, Goethe, Schiller, and, in English, from Shakespeare: "King Lear, The Tempest and -- her favorite as well as mine -- Cymbeline."

Even among his playmates Drucker encountered intellectual distinction. "One day we played 'What are you going to be when you grow up?' And we were saying policeman or fireman -- except for Gustav, who said, 'I am going to be Professor of Islamic Studies at the University.' It scared me spitless, because somehow I knew that Gustav would carry it out." Gustav went on to hold a chair in Islamic Studies at the University of Chicago.

If Drucker had never spent a day in school, he'd still be superbly well educated by ear, from the high multilingual talk flowing over him. Besides heaps of esoteric knowledge, these occasions lent him the style of casual sophistication that distinguishes his writing. Learning is his mind's pleasure, a gift to share with his readers, not an invitation to pomposity. The Druckers raised an intellectual, not an academic.

For sixty years Drucker has taken on a new subject every three or four years and read up on it to the capacious limits of his curiosity. One year it might be Japanese art, which he taught on the side for six years at Pomona College; another year it could be sixteenth-century finance; yet another the history of technology or of work -- or of American statesmen or of British rule in India. He recommends intellectual omnivorousness as a form of self-renewal. Certainly it has worked for him. A recent issue of Forbes, with Drucker's picture on the cover, bore the nearly plausible title "Still the YOUNGEST MIND." Drucker's reading also pays off on the page. Few other "management gurus" cangarnish a paragraph with bits like this: "It is no accident that the word 'risk' itself in the original Arabic meant 'earning one's daily bread.'" (Had you forgotten that?) "Only in Drucker," the Economist notes, "would you learn that the first management conference was organized in 1882, by the German Post Office -- and that nobody showed up." Even more characteristic is Drucker's use of historical analogies, often felicitous. Thus in discussing ways to deter polluters of the "Transnational Ecology," he notes that, "The nineteenth century cured two of mankind's oldest scourges, the slave trade and piracy on the high seas, by transnational action." As the 19th century did with piracy, so the twenty-first can do with pollution. Drucker's books teach; above everything, he is a teacher.

He had become "incurably infected" with "the teaching bug" in fourth grade, when he became the apt pupil of "Miss Elsa" and "Miss Sophy," two sisters who taught in a progressive private school to which his parents transferred him from a state school to redeem his handwriting. Miss Sophy, the warmer of the two, was an educational innovator. She taught the boys to cook and sew and the girls to hammer and saw, a then "revolutionary doctrine" that was also the rule at home, where Caroline Drucker tackled the repairs, including plumbing and reshingling. If Miss Elsa offered terse encouragement ("Better than last week"), Miss Sophy smiled -- "the only praise she ever gave, but one that was pure bliss to the beholder."

Dressed in forbidding black bombazine that lent her the aspect of a "big beetle," with pince-nez and high-button shoes, Miss Elsa could be severe. Yet, "...we worshipped her," Drucker says. "When fifty years later, the Women's Libbers announced that the Lord is really a woman, I was not a bit surprised."

Miss Elsa devised a way to make Peter responsible for his own learning. She gave him a notebook and required him to record what he expected to learn at the beginning of each week and then to check his expectations against the results at the end of the week. (Miss Elsa, it appears, invented "Managing by Objectives," Drucker's signature management concept.) By fourth grade Peter was showing promise as a writer. "I knew fairly early in life," he says, "that writing was one thing I was likely to do well -- perhaps the only thing." Recognizing and reinforcing his strength, Miss Elsa had him write two compositions every week, one on a subject of her choosing, the other on one of his. By thus working on what he did well, she first modeled the credo Drucker has imparted to executives for over fifty years: focus on what people can do, not on what they can't do. Schools concentrate more on problems than on strengths. As a result "people don't know what they do well because they are not encouraged to think that way. That's probably my greatest strength as both a teacher and consultant -- I immediately look for that." He generalizes to others the method of his own learning. "I realized that I, at least, do not learn from mistakes. I have to learn from successes."

Drucker was the first to name the "knowledge worker," the first to chart the emerging "knowledge society." Yet he warns of a new "mandarinate" of the credentialed. "By asking the schoolmaster to pick management," he wrote in The New Society in 1950, when this trend was barely visible, "the enterprise will deny itself the very men it needs most: the entreprenuer, the innovator, the risk-taker." Forty years later, in The New Realities, he used history to make the same, and by then commonplace, point: "Neither Gottlieb Daimler nor Henry Ford would have much chance to get to the top without an engineering degree or an MBA. No reputable financial firm would be likely today to hire the 'college dropout' J. P. Morgan."

Not how long or where you went to school, but how you pelform is the only fair test of an employee. Yet, increasingly, you won't get to be an employee unless your ticket gets punched (and punched again) in the costly groves of academe. American business has long been the most democratic proscenium in American life. Ordinary people got the chance to do extraordinary things. To succeed in business you didn't have to go to Harvard. Indeed, that could hurt you. As recently as the mid-1950s Drucker was told of a Sears' executive, "He got promoted at Sears even though he went to Harvard Law School." But this egalitarian tradition of American business is being eaten away by the growth of a "mandarin meritocracy," a trend worrying to Drucker.

Though Peter had failed to improve his handwriting, he was otherwise sufficiently advanced that Miss Elsa urged the Druckers to have him skip fifth grade and go directly from fourth grade to the state-run Latin school, the Gymnasium. Gymnasium proved challenging only to Peter's memory. "I spent eight years...on Latin irregular verbs....There was hardly a hint from any of the teachers that Horace or Tacitus might be read except to find their grammatical mistakes." Drucker weathered the tedium "by reading history and the world's great literature under the desk.

At least one teacher in these years, however, left a lasting mark. When he was thirteen an "inspiring teacher of religion" gave him an invaluable life-lesson by asking each student what he wanted to be remembered for. Of course they were too young to answer. "So he chuckled and said, 'I didn't expect you to be able to answer it. But if you still can't answer it by the time you're fifty, you will have wasted your life.'" Drucker has tried to live by that existential imperative ever since. "I am always asking that question...It is a question that induces you to renew yourself -- because it pushes you to see yourself as a different person -- the person you can become."

Drucker had wanted to leave Vienna for years. As soon as he could, after finishing Gymnasium, he got out. Once capital of a vast and variegated empire of 50 million that stretched from the Alps to the borders of Russia, postwar Vienna had become, A.J. E Taylor writes, "the inflated capital of a small Alpine country" of 6.5 million, paying a huge price for losing the war its imperial rulers had started. The city lived in the past, in a saccharine fog of nostalgia for "prewar," when, Taylor notes, "Vienna was a German-speaking Paris with even larger cafes and even gayer life." "All they talked about was life before 1914," Drucker says. "I was surrounded by extinct volcanoes..." Much to his father's distress, instead of going straight to the university and then, perhaps, to medical school, as his brother was expected to do, Peter took an apprentice's job in Hamburg. "I had sat [in school] long enough. I would be an adult among other adults -- I had never liked being young, and detested the company of delayed adolescents as I thought most college students to be. I would earn a living and be financially independent." He was seventeen.

In Hamburg he worked as clerk-trainee for an export firm that sold hardware to India. His hours were from 7:30 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. on weekdays and until noon on Saturdays, which gave him and two other trainees the balance of the weekend to hike in the country around Hamburg. "To appease my father," he says, "but without any serious intention, I enrolled at Hamburg University in the Law faculty." He thought of himself as a part-time student. "Full-time law students did not spend four years working hard and studying the law. They spent four years in an agreeable haze compounded of two parts beer and one part sex." He figured he "could get quite enough of both" without going full-time. But there was a Kafkaesque complication. The University did not hold evening classes; and he worked during the day -- so how could he be any sort of student? It was enough, in those days of academic vagabondage, to enroll in a course and take an exam at the end of the term to get credit. "During my entire year and a half in Hamburg, I therefore did not attend a single class at the university.

Instead he spent five weekday evenings reading in the Hamburg City Library. "For fifteen months, I read, and read, and read in German and English and French." Once a week he went to the Hamburg Opera and there he made a life-changing discovery. After watching a performance of Falstaff, Verdi's last opera, he was astonished and moved to find that Verdi had written this high-spirited work when he was eighty. Asked why he had taken up such a challenging opera at his age, Verdi had said, "All my life as a musician I have striven for perfection. It has always eluded me. I surely have an obligation to make one more try." Those words made "an indelible impression" on Drucker. Although he was only eighteen, he pledged to go at his life's work in Verdi's spirit. He further resolved "that if I ever reached an advanced age, I would not give up, but would keep on." Writing four books since he reached eighty, he has kept to Verdi's course. "Whenever people ask me which of my books I consider the best, I smile and say, 'The next.'"

He stayed just over a year in Hamburg, where he launched his career as a writer with two scholarly papers, both in the field of economics -- the stuff of table talk at the Druckers. One was on the Panama Canal's role in world trade; the other, an econometric analysis of the New York stock market. Published in the September 1929 issue of a prestigious economic journal, it confidently predicted that the market could only go up. Just weeks later, in October, the market crashed. Drucker says this was the last financial prediction he ever made. "Fortunately, there is no copy of the journal left."

Luckily, his stock market paper had not yet been published when the Frankfurt branch of a Wall Street firm hired him as a trainee security analyst. He lasted there until the Great Crash put the firm out of business. He had learned a valuable lesson about the impenetrable caprice of markets.

Transferring his law school courses to Frankfurt University, Drucker also enrolled in a statistics course "because I was head over heels in love with the beautiful wife of my boss -- and she was a statistics student at the University." Post Crash, he accepted an offer to be the financial writer on Frankfurt's largest daily newspaper, the Frankfurter General Anzeiger. Soon, he was promoted to senior editor. He was to handle all foreign and all economic news, to write six to eight editorials a week, and, that editor being ill, to run the women's pages. A senior editor on a major newspaper at twenty? The war had cut down the generation before Drucker's. The German and Austrian thirty-five-year-olds who should have been the senior writers and editors were dead. "This situation was not too different," Drucker notes, spanning continents and wars, "from what I found in Japan when I first went there ten years after the end of the Pacific War, in the mid- and late fifties."

His new boss, Erich Dombrowski, one of the leading liberal editors in Germany, was Drucker's third great teacher. A Prussian for punctuality, he chastised Drucker on his first day on the job for showing up at 6:10 A.M. That the streetcar did not start running in time was not an acceptable excuse. Walk! "We began at 6 in the morning and finished by a quarter past 2 in the afternoon, when the last edition went to press," Drucker says. "So I began to force myself to study afternoons and evenings: international relations and international law; the history of social and legal institutions; finance; and so on." Since, "A journalist has to write about many subjects," he was steeping himself in as many as he could.

Twice yearly Dombrowski convened a come-to-Jesus meeting beginning on Saturday afternoon and lasting all day Sunday to review the work of his small staff over the preceding six months. What had they done well? What had they tried to do well? What had they not tried hard enough to do? He would then launch into a "scathing critique" of what they had done badly. Looking ahead to the next six months, each staffer would then say what he should focus on, what he should improve, and what he should learn -- Miss Elsa's very method. Drucker eventually adopted it himself; he spends two weeks every summer catechizing his year's work a la Dombrowski. "Keeping score on yourself" in this way is the "best of the nuts and bolts of self development....Keeping score helps me to focus my efforts in areas where I have an impact and to slough off projects where nothing is happening." Demanding as Dombrowski was, he listened to Peter and gave him responsibility, a huge word in the Drucker lexicon.

Frankfurt University proved as much an academic snooze as Hamburg. Still, Drucker sampled at least one course that greatly influenced him. Indeed, it gave him a model for the discipline of management. Of all things it was a course on admiralty law. This would seem a narrow subject, but the teacher presented admiralty law as a microcosm of Western history, society, technology, legal thought, and economy. Drucker regards this as "the most general education I ever had....Fifteen years later, he used the course as template for teaching management. Like admiralty law, management can seem a narrow specialty. Drucker, however, has taught it as "an integrating discipline of human values and conduct, of social order and intellectual inquiry," one that "feeds off economics, psychology, mathematics, political theory, history, and philosophy. In short, management is a liberal art...."

Because he was not a German citizen, he was not eligible to take the state examination for a law doctorate. So, by cramming and by a facility in taking tests, he received a fairly pointless doctorate in public law and international relations. His topic: the status of "almost governments" -- rebellions, governments in exile, colonies about to be independent -- under international law. "The one thing I got out of being a law student," he says, "was that I met Doris -- not in a lecture I attended (I didn't attend any) but in one I taught to substitute for the international law professor who was sick." Doris Schmitz, a young German woman from Mainz, would become Drucker's wife of sixty years.

It was the early 1930s now. Black-shirted Nazi thugs were on the streets. "AH around me society, economy, and government -- indeed civilization -- were collapsing." To answer the sickness of the times, Drucker was drawn to three German thinkers who had tried to create order amidst the upheavals of their own times. "I began to write a book that would make it impossible for the Nazis to have anything to do with me." It would be an intellectual biography of Wilhelm von Humbolt (1767-1835), among other distinctions founder of the University of Berlin; Joseph yon Radowitz (1797-1853), the godfather of Europe's Catholic political parties; and Friedrich Julius Stahl (1802-1861), a legal philosopher, an accomplished parliamentarian -- and a Jew.

In the event, Drucker finished only the essay on Stahl, "which in the name of conservatism and patriotism put him forth as the exemplar and preceptor for the turbulence of the 1930s." As Drucker had anticipated, this was intolerable to the Nazis. Published in April 1933, two months after Hitler took power, the Stahl pamphlet was promptly banned and, indeed, burned. Knowing that he would soon be "kicked out or jailed," Drucker decided to leave Germany. Still, he "dawdled and hung on."

Through the years of Hitler's rise to power, Drucker had begun to take the complex measure of fascism. In his first book, The End of Economic Man: The Origins of Totalitarianism, published in 1939, he plumbed its irrationalism and nihilism. "It is antiliberal, but also anticonservative; antireligious and antiatheist; anticapitalist and antisocialist; antiwar and antipacifist; against big business, but also against small artisans and shopkeepers...." He witnessed a "wildly cheering" rally of peasants at which a Nazi logician gave a vivid demonstration of "the abracadabra of fascism" with this burst of irrationality: "We don't want lower bread prices, we don't want higher bread prices, we don't want unchanged bread prices -- we want National-Socialist bread prices." He also glimpsed the naked cynicism of the Nazi leaders, attending a rally where Goebbels, after telling a "particularly choice lie" that sent his audience into raptures, added, "Of course, you understand all this is just propaganda," which elicited a frenzy of cheers.

The spur that finally drove him out of Germany was a faculty meeting at the university led by its newly appointed "Nazi commissar." Drucker went to the meeting hopeful that the famously liberal faculty of Germany's most "self-confidently liberal" university would defend intellectual freedom. The Nazi began by announcing that Jewish faculty members would be dismissed forthwith. Then he harangued the faculty in foul language -- "It was nothing but 'shit' and 'fuck' and 'screw yourself'." When he subsided all eyes turned to the Nobelquality biochemist, a famous liberal. He would put the Nazi goon in his place. "The great liberal got up, cleared his throat, and said: 'Very interesting, Mr. Commissar, and in some respects very illuminating. But one point I didn't get too clearly. Will there be more money for research in physiology?'"

Although a few of the non-Jewish faculty left in solidarity with their Jewish colleagues, most did not. I went out sick unto death -- and I knew I would leave Germany within forty-eight hours."

Without knowing a single person there, Drucker moved to London, taking a job as a securities analyst for an insurance company. One day, while going up on the long escalator in the Piccadilly Circus tube station, he passed Doris Schmitz coming down. They waved madly to each other, and when Peter reached the top he got on the down escalator, while Doris, on reaching the bottom, got on the up. After passing each other again, they sorted things out. Doris was taking courses at the London School of Economics, and in London she and Peter began their courtship.

The insurance job ended just before Christmas 1933, and it was a discouraged young man who returned to Vienna to spend the holidays with his parents. A taste of Vienna, however, steeled his will to return to job-scarce (there was a depression on) London to make a new start on his career -- whatever that was to be. But Doris was much the stronger reason to return. "With every day away from her it became more apparent to me that I wanted to be with her and had to be where she was.

His father asked him to take back a cuckoo clock for an "old friend" in London. The clock delivered, Drucker had lunch with this friend, who, on hearing of his work history, offered him a job as economist, asset manager, and general secretary for a small merchant bank. He stayed at the firm for almost four years, until the job crossed the low threshold of his boredom, and he left Europe for America.

During this English interlude, Drucker discovered that he was not an economist. Every week he took the train down to Cambridge University to attend John Maynard Keynes' seminar. While literally sitting at the great man's feet he "suddenly realized that Keynes and all the brilliant economics students in the room were interested in the behavior of commodities while I was interested in the behavior of people." His interest in people would lead him to the study of management, which, seeming to be about commodities, is for Drucker all about people. It would lead as well to his career as a management consultant. "This is a person business," he'd say about consulting. "We are not greengrocers selling commodities." As for economics, "There is only one point on which the economists and I are in agreement: I am Not an economist." And as for Keynesian economics, notably its advice to governments to spend their way out of depressions, "It was like a doctor telling you that you have inoperable liver cancer, but it will be cured if you go to bed with a beautiful seventeen-year-old."

As early as 1935, Drucker had begun publishing in American periodicals ranging from the Virginia Quarterly Review to the Saturday Evening Post. London had palled for him. People there, as in Vienna, obsessively repaired to "prewar" even as a new war loomed inexorably. In his bones Drucker wanted to be quit of the past and, in a striking phrase he applies in one of his books to the Founding Fathers, to "solve the future." America, future-facing, drew him. He would launch his career here as a political scientist, but his interest in the behavior of people would not find repletion in the abstractions of political theory, and he would soon turn to the study of organizations, beginning with an American social innovation, the large corporation. In January 1937 he and Doris were married. Mere days later they left for America, Peter representing several large British papers, including the then Financial News and now Financial Times. He did not, however, come to the US as a correspondent. Instead, "I came as a writer."

To come is a chapter on Drucker's mastery of modern English prose; then begins the long march through his books. That will proceed chronologically, though we will also seek to bring his whole work to bear on any part of it.

Copyright © 1998 by Jack Beatty

What People are saying about this

Warren Bennis
While Drucker famously denies he invented modern management, claiming that that idea is nonsense -- he once told me that 'the CEO of the builder of the Cheops pyramid 6,000 years ago surely knew more than any CEO today' -- he has most certainly spawned the major management ideas of this century. And this book, beautifully written and fascinating throughout, does Drucker justice by presenting an omnibus of his ideas with clarity, wit, and critical appreciation [of not] just management ideas, but ideas about how the world works and the ropes we have to learn (not pull!) to succeed in that world.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter
Jack Beatty's lucid book captures beautifully the high points of Drucker's extraordinarily influential ideas. Now an even wider audience can experience Peter Drucker's great insight and foresight, learning why CEOs still hang on his every word.

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