Peter F. Drucker, regarded as the father of modern business management for his numerous books and articles stressing innovation, entrepreneurship...
Peter F. Drucker, the down-to-earth business thinker who defined the role of management guru, died Friday at his home in Claremont, Calif. He was 95.
During more than 60 years as an author, professor and consultant to some of America’s biggest corporations, Mr. Drucker challenged people’s thinking about organizations and popularized the notion of the post-industrial “knowledge worker.”
“Peter could look around corners,” philanthropist Eli Broad, who knew Mr. Drucker for 30 years, said Friday. “He would say things that seemed rather simple but in fact were very profound. He saw the future.”
Former General Electric Chairman Jack Welch credited a pithy question from Mr. Drucker with helping him understand how to restructure the far-flung GE empire, a sometimes-wrenching process that turned the company into a stock-market dynamo and made Welch one of America’s most celebrated managers.
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“Drucker said: ‘If you weren’t already in this business, would you enter it today? And if not, what are you going to do about it?’ ” Welch recalled Friday night. “Simple, right? But incredibly powerful.”
Mr. Drucker’s simple question ultimately led to Welch’s operating maxim that if a GE unit could not be No. 1 or No. 2 in its field, it should be jettisoned.
Claremont Graduate University said Mr. Drucker died of natural causes. Mr. Drucker was often called the “father of modern management.” But on the occasion of his 90th birthday, he described his life work much more simply: “I looked at people, not at machines or buildings,” he said. That approach led to nearly three dozen books and thousands of articles that form nothing less than a guide to the 20th-century economy.
The former newspaperman did not think up economic theories or elaborate systems of business operation. Rather, he looked at people working, put them in historical context and saw a new liberal art: management.
“Unlike many philosophers, he spoke in plain language that resonated with ordinary managers,” Intel founder Andy Grove said in statement. “Consequently simple statements from him have influenced untold numbers of daily actions; they did mine over decades.”
General Motors, which invited Mr. Drucker to study its corporate structure in 1943, provided his laboratory and his epiphany.
At GM in wartime, Mr. Drucker found “the corporation as human effort people of diverse skills and knowledges working together in a large organization,” he wrote in “Concept of the Corporation,” the 1946 book that emerged from his two years studying GM.
It was something new in world history, different from the “command and control” methods of organizing labor that had characterized the building of the Pyramids or Napoleon’s army or even Henry Ford’s assembly line.
“The overseer of the unskilled peasants who dragged stone for the Pyramids did not concern himself with morale or motivation,” Mr. Drucker wrote.
But modern management is different, he said. “Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant,” he said in various ways in his 18 books on the profession of management.
Mr. Drucker was born in Vienna, Austria, studied at universities in Hamburg and Frankfurt, Germany, and received a doctorate in international law in 1931. Mr. Drucker’s 1933 essay on a leading conservative philosopher angered the new Nazi government, which banned his writing. Mr. Drucker moved to London and worked for a bank before moving to the U.S. in 1937.
Mr. Drucker is survived by his wife, Doris; a son, Vincent Drucker of San Rafael, Calif.; three daughters, Audrey Drucker of Puyallup, Cecily Drucker of San Francisco and Joan Weinstein of Chicago; and six grandchildren.