Arguably one of the most influential business/management individuals of the past 50 years worldwide has been Peter Drucker. He is one of the best-known and most widely influential thinkers and writers on the subject of management theory and practice. His writings have predicted many of the major developments of the late twentieth century, including privatization and decentralization; the rise of Japan to economic world power; the decisive importance of marketing; and the emergence of the information society with its necessity of lifelong learning. He is thought of in many circles as the Father of modern Business Management; his legacy is that of clarity and vision that far excelled his contemporaries.
Peter Ferdinand Drucker was born to intellectuals Carolyn and Adolf Drucker in a suburb of Vienna, part of the Austria-Hungary Empire, November 19, 1909 and his childhood undoubtably had a substantial influence on his life and career. His mother was the first woman to study medicine in Austria and his father was a lawyer and a senior government official who created an intellectual household for young Drucker growing up. They included him in their evening discussions from an early age including friends and relatives that that were writers, scientists and artists. According to Drucker, “that was actually my education”. At the age of 30 he moved to Hamburg as there were not many jobs available in post WWI Austria and began studying law, later transferring to the Goethe University of Frankfurt taking evening courses. While studying law at night he was writing for Der Frankfurter General-Anzeiger, the city’s biggest daily newspaper, and became their senior editor at the age of just 20, while also completing a PhD in international law.
After personally interviewing Adolf Hitler for a review of Mein Kampf, he realized the danger of someone with his Jewish descent being in a prominent position in 1930s Germany. As a result of Hitler’s rising power in Germany, Drucker moved to London in 1933 as he could vision the death and destruction that was part of the Mein Kampf mentality. In London, he worked for an insurance company, then as the chief economist at a private bank. He also reconnected with Doris Schmitz, an acquaintance from the University of Frankfurt and they married in 1934. The couple permanently relocated to the United States, where he became a university professor as well as a freelance writer and business consultant. In 1943, General Motors invited Drucker to study its inner workings. That experience led to his first management book, “Concept of the Corporation,” in 1946. He went on to write more than other 30 books on management theory and practice. Drucker is recognized by managers for his philosophy of management by objectives, which, for him, depended on agreement of objectives. It was never intended to be seen, as it is today, as a form of imposed targets. With his holistic approach he dismantled the boundaries between subjects and took ideas from any area that made a rational contribution.
His regard for people was at the center of his work. Early in his career he had decided not to become an economist because his interest was in people. He put integration at the center of management, while others believed that what held its functions together was coordination. He regarded co-ordination as only one of the vital functions, such as planning, organizing, motivating and measuring. He listed the manager’s essential activities and said that they would be similar in every business, although the order of preference would change. Nevertheless, all the activities had to be present. It was no good having perfect manufactured products that stayed in a warehouse, the product had to be sold, and the cash had to be collected. The circle of activities must be completed for the business to survive, and survival was the primary responsibility of the manager.
The announcement of his Medal of Freedom given by President George W. Busch read, “Dr. Peter Drucker is the world’s foremost pioneer of management theory. Dr. Drucker has championed concepts such as privatization, management by objective and decentralization. He has served as a consultant to numerous governments, public service institutions and major corporations. Dr. Drucker is a Professor of Social Sciences and Management at the Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California, which named its Graduate School of Management after him. He helped establish and continues to serve as the Honorary Chairman of the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management in New York City, which awards the Peter F. Drucker Award for Nonprofit Innovation. He is currently applying his expertise to the management of churches and other faith-based institutions and to the reorganization of universities worldwide. There is a great video that summarizes Peter Drucker’s contributions to his discipline and humanity, it about 12 minutes long but well worth it, just click here.
The Hearing Loss
After a childhood spent teasing his mother about being hard of hearing, in own own words, “I realized that payback was indeed a bitch. Even worse, I knew the future that lay before me. As a kid, I would often act as my mom’s interpreter so I saw first-hand how people with hearing loss are treated. Even when told about my mom’s impairment, salespeople or waiters would still act impatient or even downright rude. I’ve seen doctors and nurses talk down to her like she’s a child, and now that her hearing is almost completely gone, they assume she’s senile as well.’
This became very important to him as his own hearing was failing. As the years went on, he noticed that he was constantly asking people to repeat themselves. At restaurants he would have to lean in and strain to decipher the conversation and at home his kids were regularly teasing him about his hearing. Drucker relates, “It was no surprise when, after finally working up the nerve to get a hearing test, the results were grim”. The audiologist looked up at Drucker and said, “You have a significant hearing loss and it’s likely degenerative, so you should start wearing hearing aids now.” According to Brakeman (2013), Drucker was shocked and blindsided by the news even though he had long suspected a hearing problem. Apparently, he had inherited his mother’s cookie-bite patterned loss. Typical of newly diagnosed hearing impaired patients, Drucker says, “I barely listened as the doctor went on about the various hearing aid options, extolling the virtues of the new technologies. She even went so far as to describe the newer models as being downright sexy, damnit I am not ready”. Audiologists will recognize his response was typical, He further related, “I don’t want to wear hearing aids. I don’t want to have to take them out to swim or shower, or worry about getting them caught in my glasses, or have to buy and change batteries every month. And I certainly don’t want another thing that makes me feel old.”
He let the idea sink in for a time and it took a year or so to allow his bruised ego to recover. After reading new research about how untreated hearing loss can lead to loss of cognitive function and depression, and learning that hearing aids can actually preserve speech recognition, he realized it was time to take action and stop the self-pity. While not without psychological struggle, Drucker, the guru of management, decided to get hearing aids. Drucker says that, “I had to get over myself and just own it already. So, I went back to the audiologist, and finally placed the order. Not for a subtle, hair-matching one either. I figured if I’m gonna do this thing, I’m not gonna hide it. I ordered the bright pink.”
Check out some of the more famous lessons that Peter Drucker taught us. But as a hearing impaired patient, the guru of management was similar to most of us, in denial at first and then, after some thought and research, accepting and obtaining benefit from amplification.
Brakeman, K. (2013). Don’t Hate Me Because I Can’t Hear You, The Huffington Post, Retrieved from World Healthnet, April 25, 2018.
Drucker Institute (2018). Peter Drucker: A video. Claremont College: Drucker School of Management, retrieved April 25, 2018.
Matsangou, E. (2015). A history of Peter Drucker and his impact on management theory. EuropeanCEO. Retrieved April 25,2017.