A Glimpse of Drucker’s Brain: E-Interview and Reader Q&A with Jeffrey Krames

In 2003, at age 94, Peter Drucker, widely considered the world’s most influential expert on management, granted Jeffrey Krames a daylong interview about his management principles, his 38 books, and the leaders he had advised over the years. Upon his death in 2005, the Washington Post credited Drucker for influencing “Winston Churchill, Bill Gates, Jack Welch and the Japanese business establishment.” Krames, currently editorial director of Portfolio/Penguin, showcases what he learned from the interview in his latest book, Inside Drucker’s Brain, which was published on October 16. In an email interview yesterday with Cheryl Grey, Krames shares a glimpse into the mind of a fascinating man.

The advent of the Internet has created a whole new corporate ballgame. Based on your knowledge of Drucker’s insights and management ideas (Drucker’s brain), how would he approach the management of a virtual company staffed by telecommuters such as yourself? Without management by sight, how would Drucker handle such aspects as human resources, personal relationships, etc? (By this, I mean a company without any central, brick-and-mortar location, with all communication and work performed via the Internet.)

What a great question! Drucker believed a great deal in responsibility and accountability. He once said, “All development is self development,” meaning that it is the responsibility of each and every person to make sure they got whatever training was necessary to excel in their jobs. If Drucker was the head of this virtual organization, he would take a great deal of time in each and every hire to make sure that he was hiring people with the strengths required for each position. He would also put in metrics to make sure that there was a way to measure the performance of each individual.

Lastly, he would hire a manager who had what it took to manage people from a distance (he told me he was “the world’s worst manager,” so he would hire someone else to manage the unit). This would be someone who had the maturity to care more about what was right than who was right, an individual who could make what he called the life and death decisions (know who to hire, fire, and who to promote).

Considering the trying times businesses are facing—tight and tightening margins, shrinking international markets, credit markets slowly coming out of the deep freeze, stock market wealth vanishing without a trace—what Druckerisms specifically apply to this market? What can companies do to survive while staring down the barrel of 1929? And how can they position themselves to take the offensive, not only now but as the recovery progresses?

What a timely question. Drucker felt that management was a “foul weathered job.” He felt that the leader’s most important job was to guide his or her organization through any kind of disaster: “The most important task of an organization’s leader is to anticipate crisis. Perhaps not to avert it, but to anticipate it. To wait until the crisis hits is already abdication,” asserted Drucker.

To get by in these difficult times would involve certain strategic moves. First would be a review of all product lines to make sure they still make sense for the business: Too many organizations have a hard time figuring out what to grow and what to abandon, as Drucker explained in 1982: “…a growth policy needs to be able to distinguish between healthy growth, fat, and cancer ― all three are ‘growth,’ but surely all three are not equally desirable.”

Drucker was telling managers to exercise careful judgment by abandoning the marginal: “Yesterday’s breadwinner should almost always be abandoned on a fairly fast schedule,” explains Drucker. It still may produce net revenue. But it soon becomes a bar to the introduction and success of tomorrow’s breadwinner.”

Which corporate heads strongly influenced Drucker in the development of his theories? And were any of those mentors later torn down to make way for newer theories?

As for practitioners, Drucker’s greatest influence was Alfred Sloan, the head of General Motors for a good part of the first half of the 20th century. Drucker spent most of two years studying GM in the early to mid-1940s, which led to Drucker’s first business book, Concept of the Corporation (1946). Drucker called Alfred Sloan the first “professional manager,” and credits Sloan’s segmentation strategy with unseating Henry Ford and his Model Ts. Sloan was a leader with character, maturity, and commitment, and made General Motors ─ which had been a bunch of smaller businesses strung together ─ one of the world’s greatest companies. Only in recent years has GM really faltered by continuing to make large gas guzzling SUV’s while Toyota ate their lunch with hybrids like the Prius. As a result of the recent financial meltdown, GM is in deep trouble and in stunning fashion, their stock has recently hit a 50-year low!

Laying aside your editorial and publishing background, what specific personal qualifications made you the best person to write this book?

As an author I have always recognized the need to write books that boil down large bodies of work into smaller, bite sizes of information that are easy to understand. This was particularly important with Drucker since he wrote so many books (38), with so many of them being difficult to navigate (he sometimes is repetitive and his writing style is not the simplest to follow). If someone wanted to learn about Drucker’s greatest ideas, where would they start? That’s where I come in. I was able to provide that starting point and pull out the fifteen or so seminal ideas from all of his works so that readers get a real sense of Drucker’s classical concepts, ideas, and strategies. Lastly, because I spent a full day with him and corresponded with him briefly, I was able to humanize him in a way no writer had done before.

You can learn more about Inside Drucker’s Brain and Drucker himself at www.insidedruckersbrain.com or www.jeffreykrames.com. The book is now available for purchase at Amazon.com.

Now It’s Your Turn to Ask the Questions and Win a Chance to Get a Free Copy of Inside Drucker’s Brain.

Have a question that we didn’t ask? Here’s your chance to pick Jeffrey Krames’ brain. Also, by submitting a question in the comments area below, you’ll be automatically entered into a drawing for one of three free copies of Inside Drucker’s Brain. Please see our Book Giveaways page for complete rules and qualifications.

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5 comments to A Glimpse of Drucker’s Brain: E-Interview and Reader Q&A with Jeffrey Krames

  • My question is: Was Drucker more like an executive coach than a management consultant?

    Here is why I ask: Drucker never fit into the button-down stereotype of a management consultant. He always worked from a home office filled with books and classical records on shelves that groaned under their weight. He never had a secretary, answered the telephone himself and admitted he was something of a phone addict.

    Drucker’s genius lay in his ability to find patterns among seemingly unconnected disciplines and to focus on opportunities rather than problems. Asked how he came up with so many original insights, Drucker said, “I learn only through listening,” pausing, “to myself.”

    It was never Drucker’s style to bring people clear, concise answers to their problems but rather to frame questions that could uncover the larger issues standing in the way of performance. “My job,” he once lectured a client, “is to ask questions. It’s your job to provide answers.”

    Source: John A. Byrne, Executive Editor, BusinessWeek, November 28, 2005

  • John:
    What a great question! I think it would be fair to call Peter Drucker both an executive coach and a management consultant. However, he was more of a consultant than a coach. I say that because I think of an executive coach as someone who deals with smaller, more personal issues. But as a management consultant he helped some of the world’s great companies get better. He told me he considered himself a management consultant, and described some of what he did quite humorously: for example, he told me that “the client pays for the consultant’s mistakes. The only risk a consultant has is that the client doesn’t come back (or that his check bounces.”). I know he was only kidding about that last part.
    The truth is that Peter Drucker was not only one of the earliest management consultants in the U.S., he was one of the best. He helped companies like GE and Proctor & Gamble well into his 90’s. I found it remarkable that GE became a client in 1951 and remained on Drucker’s client list for more than half a century! I hope that answers your very good question, John.

  • Adam Giovane

    Someone say free book?! ;-p

    Though he passed away 5 years ago what do you think Peter’s approach was to mobile communications and technology.

    It amuses and fascinates me that he didn’t like or bother with having a secretary and yet he was a phone addict. If her were still alive and well today I can picture this old man with a BlackBerry!

    What was his reasoning for going without a secretary? Was it a corporate culture thing of personalizing relationships quicker by answering his own phone or a productivity quirk of having direct accurate unfiltered contact with his clients?

  • Adam Giovane

    If the trees cut down to make pulp to going into these 3 books and no one else is around, does it not make a sound? OK I’m being silly.

    I read the terms of the competition after writing my question and thus don’t mind about the book but I still asked a question. So since it was past the 7 day limit, it’s not expected that I see ‘Inside Drucker’s Brain’ in my mail box any time soon.

    Maybe I’ll go E-Mail Jeffrey and then post his answer below in this articles comments section.

  • Sharon Walling

    I don’t really have a question but a statement.

    I have only been a Team Leader for a couple of years, and I’m always looking for new books on Leadership.
    I have been looking at different books by Drucker and haven’t decided on one yet. This would be a good addition to my bookshelf.

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