The ultimate knowledge worker

Updated: Nov 14 2005, 05:30am hrs
The man who hated being called a guru would have been aghast at how many obituaries referred to him as a management guru. To him the word guru had something pretentious about it. He preferred to see himself as just an old journalist. But then that was typical of Peter Drucker, who, perhaps more than any other, deserves to be called the father of modern management theory. His works were seminal. From The End of Economic Man published in 1939 right till his latest Managing in the Next Society published in 2002. Two of his early works, Concept of the Corporation in 1946, and The Practice of Management in 1954, revolutionised management thinking. The first, a study of the working of General Motors, was the first detailed account of the way a large company operated. The latter was about the role of marketing, the importance of clear objectives, both for the corporation and for the manager and the need to balance long-term strategy and innovation against short-term performance.

He asked questions that today seem fundamental to modern business practice, yet had never been asked before. Questions like What business are we in, and who are our customers forced businesses to think about issues that had never been formalised till then. Yet precisely because he asked such basic questions and had the ability of providing simple answers, he was not rated very high in academic circles. The reason according to Tom Peters, was that Drucker effectively by-passed the intellectual establishment. So its not surprising they hated his guts.

Druckers biggest asset was his ability to think ahead. He predicted the rise of the knowledge worker at a time when the knowledge society as we know it today was nowhere on the horizon. Best of all, he realised the need for better management extended to private enterprise and beyond to the public sector and to politics as well. His prescience in recognising the new pluralism in society that we dont understand is remarkable. As is his advice that we have to make work.