Soon after I published a biography of my mentor Marvin Bower, the architect of McKinsey & Company, the phone rang at my home on a Friday night. “Hello.” The caller paused and then added, “This is Peter Drucker.” It took me a moment to grasp who it was on the other end of the phone, with his Viennese accent that sounded like my father’s. I walked out of the kitchen, away from my family, to clear my head and be alone with this strangely familiar voice.
Peter Drucker? The man credited with inventing the discipline of management? The man who wrote 39 books which have been translated into countless languages? The man who single-handedly counseled the chairmen of GM and Ford, who advised the president of the World Bank and the CEO of GE, who reportedly told Margaret Thatcher to privatize the entire British mining industry? The man who had a formative influence on every company Jim Collins and Jerry Porras profiled in their book, Built to Last – legendary organizations like Hewlett Packard, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, and Motorola?
In what I soon learned was Peter’s usual no-nonsense way, he complimented me on my recent Marvin Bower book and asked if I might be interested in interviewing him. Drucker jokingly raised the idea of my writing a book about him, a book looking at how he had created the modern concept of management.
I was tempted, not to mention flattered, but commitments ricocheted through my head: In the next few weeks, I had to fly to Brussels for a global meeting at Avon Products, ride in a Starbucks delivery truck through downtown Manhattan at dawn observing the stores from a logistical perspective, and meet with senior pharmaceutical executives in New Jersey to discuss a new packaging format that could help patients remember to complete prescriptions. But this was Peter Drucker, and he was 94. It might be the last book he worked on. I told him I needed to think about it.
At the time of Drucker’s call, I was working with three clients, and all three needed a dose of Drucker.… And it wasn’t just my clients that were being overwhelmed. Something has gone wrong with business in the twenty-first century. Consider this: Since 2000, the management at 18 different pubic companies – 18 companies! – has each destroyed more than $50 billion in shareholder value.
So, three months after we first met, I told Peter that he was right not to want a conventional biography as the “father of modern management.” … I wanted to distill his ideas into a practical book about how to help organizations thrive as their traditional ways of business are being overturned.… Peter immediately agreed. He said, “We need a new theory of management. The assumptions, built into business today are not accurate.” And with that, this book and an unlikely partnership began.