Peter Drucker Taught Essence of Business

Mondays were always special. I wanted to be sharp, to be present and be prepared to learn.  Monday was when Peter Drucker taught; I was a student at Claremont Graduate University.

The Peter Drucker School of Management

Walking into the room, he would sit on a table with a microphone propped up against his chest.  Dressed with a knit tie under a sweater or a tweed jacket, he had the airs of European royalty.  His Austrian accent with a deep brogue was monotone with little inflection and the 20+ students in the room were on full alert.

Beginning at 1:00 he would start, without notes or PowerPoint, with a thesis and follow with a story, followed by a historical example, followed by an observation, followed by an assessment.   Somehow, his flow of thinking would continue to connect obscure information about demographics, social trends, economic theory, art, and political reality into a final crescendo.  At this point, he would nail the simplicity on the far side of complexity.  His stories included experiences with Alfred Sloan of GM, Tom Watson of IBM, Lyndon Johnson, and Dwight Eisenhower. Three hours without a break or a hiccup. He created a work of art, a Rembrandt or Michelangelo.   The gems I walked away with were timeless.

If I were studying philosophy, the experience would resemble sitting with Socrates. Or, if I were studying music, it would be listening to Bach and if I were in seminary, it was thinking with Augustine.

Beware of Questions

I learned quickly to beware of his questions.  Described as a curmudgeon, he had little time for stupidity, or young business students.  His responses to our answers, while accurate, were cutting: “foolish” or “ridiculous” or “nonsense”.  (When asked by the Wall Street Journal about Tom Peters book In Search of Excellence, his comment was “Its juvenile”.)

His questions however were what made him best.  Successful businesses are built on his “5 most important questions”. Drucker’s questions for decision-making should be required for all managers.  His questions in the “Effective Executive” can’t be beat.  Jack Welch rebuilt General Electric based on 2 questions Peter asked him.

Human Freedom

Jim Collins said that Peter Drucker probably had more impact on human freedom than anybody during the 20th century, including Winston Churchill.  He went on to say that while Hitler, Stalin, or Mao had to revert to the sword, Peter used the pen.  The pen, with real thought will always win the hearts of men. Drucker’s thinking influenced nearly all the current business authors, many of the captains of industry, and world leaders.

The years I studied at the Drucker School were impactful on me.  While, in hindsight, I was too young to appreciate the wisdom and the opportunity, I have continued to read and study his work for the last 25+ years and with each new book or reread, I learn even more.  Combined with my limited experience, I now look at his wisdom and understanding as more necessary than ever.  Some people think Drucker’s work is out of date, the problem is they don’t understand him nor have they looked at his work.  (Is Shakespeare “out of date?”)  Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing some of the gems I picked up along the way and how it helps me view the world and define business a bit differently.  Hopefully, it will make you uncomfortable and cause you to think, as that is what Peter does for me.