When we trivialize the messages of our forebears, we exchange our birthright in their achievements for a share in their unintended consequences. We are reminded of this fact by the death, on Nov. 11, of the creator of modern management, Peter F. Drucker, at the age of 95.
Drucker was a revolutionary in the most thorough sense he was a man who would follow the course of his reason even into untried ground, unpopularity or personal danger. This dedication to truth as he saw it early ran afoul of the Nazis' rather different notion of truth and made the United States the immediate beneficiary of some of Drucker's greatest work.
Drucker's visions, in the U.K. and the United States, increasingly focused on the organization and its role in society. And those visions were manifold. The corporation is an element of society, he said, not just an abstract economic construct or legal entity. Its purpose is to serve customers, not to make a profit. Drucker's observation that the purpose of profit was merely to fund the necessary risks undertaken in the service of customers was so revolutionary that it is today rejected outright even by many who will pay him tribute.
Another giant vision: Management is a distinct profession, with a complex role in the functioning of the organization. It must be studied and learned like any other technical profession before it can be done well.
Today, we often still see a management job as the entitlement of the most aggressive or the reward for excellent past performance. This is similar to believing that any good assembly worker willing to sell his peers down the river would be a great analog designer.
Even more troubling, today we see corporations not as organizations to serve their customers, but as ironically the fiefdoms of the managers who should be serving them, and ultimately as the personal property, in some abstract and carefully unexamined sense, of their shareholders.
Arguably, Drucker's vision was a foundation stone of the enormous edifice of wealth and achievement that the industrial world has built since the end of the Second World War. But this vision came down to us through the eyes of a member of a generation very unlike those that followed a generation for whom self-discipline was a characteristic of adulthood, objectives could lie beyond immediate self-interest and achievement was a greater reward than accumulation.
It is not surprising that today, while we take time to honor his memory, we gratefully close the book on what Peter F. Drucker actually said.
- Ron Wilson (firstname.lastname@example.org), semiconductors editor for EE Times