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Peter F. Drucker was a writer, management consultant, and university professor. He was born in Vienna, Austria, on November 19, 1909. After receiving his doctorate in public and international law from Frankfurt University in Germany, he worked as an economist and journalist in London. He moved to the United States in 1937.
Drucker published his first book, The End of Economic Man, in 1939. In it, he describes the causes for the rise of fascism, including the failure of established institutions that led to its emergence. He joined the faculty of New York University’s Graduate Business School as a professor of management in 1950. From 1971 until his death, he was Clarke Professor of Social Science and Management at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California.
Drucker authored thirty-six major books during his lifetime. Eighteen of these deal primarily with management, including the landmark books Concept of the Corporation (1946), The Practice of Management (1954), The Effective Executive (1967), Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices (1974), Innovation and Entrepreneurship (1985), and Managing the Non-Profit Organization (1990). Fifteen of his books are devoted primarily to society, economics, and politics; two are novels; and one is a collection of quasi-autobiographical essays. His last two books were The Daily Drucker (2004) and The Effective Executive in Action (2005). He also authored numerous articles that appeared in a vast array of publications, including the Harvard Business Review, the Wall Street Journal, and the Economist.
Drucker consulted with dozens of organizations and executives around the world, ranging from the world’s largest corporations, such as General Motors and the General Electric Company, to entrepreneurial startups and various government and nonprofit agencies, such as the American Red Cross, Girl Scouts of the USA, and the Salvation Army. He devoted extensive time during the last two decades of his life to helping professionalize the management of large and small social-sector and nonprofit organizations. He wrote and spoke frequently of the need to revitalize and transform governmental organizations, and he advocated privatizing the delivery of government goods and services as much as possible.
Drucker’s most significant contribution was to codify management as both a discipline and a practice—he is widely recognized as the “father of modern management.” His second major accomplishment was to develop “innovation and entrepreneurship” as a systematic discipline and practice for the purpose of managing change in all of the institutions of society. This accomplishment was a continuation of his work in support of what he called “a functioning society.”
Drucker referred to himself as a “social ecologist.” Social ecology, he wrote, requires a “rigorous method of looking, identifying, and testing” for changes that are in the process of emerging in society (Drucker 1992, p. 62). Thus, a social ecologist tries to identify and define new developments that are occurring or that have already occurred. These developments, or discontinuities, appear gradually and may not be noticeable until they cause major impacts on society and its institutions. Drucker’s ability to identify and define new developments in the twentieth century was legendary, and it can be seen in almost all of his works.
Drucker first identified the emergence of knowledge work, the knowledge worker, and the knowledge society in his 1959 book Landmarks of Tomorrow. He identified an event that was very important to society—the shift from manual work to knowledge work in developed economies. He believed that organizations and executives needed to prepare themselves to manage and exploit this shift for the good of society and its citizens. He tracked the emergence of knowledge work for a half-century, tracking its emergence from a trickle to a major force in developed societies. He described this major force in his 1993 work Post-Capitalist Society.
A fair amount of the methodology Drucker used as a social ecologist is contained in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. This book “shows how one systematically looks to the changes in society, in demographics, in meaning, in science and technology, as opportunities to make the future” (Drucker and Maciariello 2004, p. 4).
Valid criticisms of Drucker’s work have to do with his frequent use (or abuse) of data. With the exception of demographic data, Drucker often used data to make a larger point, for which the precision he specified was unnecessary. In addition, throughout his work, he generally under-referenced the works of other authors.
Critics have also argued that Drucker’s management is “utopian,” that it relies on an unrealistically positive view of human nature, human potentialities, and organizational potential. While Drucker knew of the human proclivity toward corruption—perhaps better than his critics, having seen firsthand the rise of Hitler and the rise of German anti-Semitism (see The End of Economic Man)—he chose to focus primarily on the more noble aspirations of human beings. Peter Drucker died of natural causes on November 11, 2005, in Claremont, California.
- Beatty, Jack. 1998. The World According to Peter Drucker. New York: Free Press.
- Drucker, Peter F. 1992. Reflections of a Social Ecologist. Society 29 (4): 57–64.
- Drucker, Peter F., and Joseph A. Maciariello. 2004. The Daily Drucker. New York: HarperCollins.
- Edersheim, Elizabeth Haas. 2007. The Definitive Drucker. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Flaherty, John E. 1999. Shaping the Managerial Mind. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Maciariello, Joseph A. 2006. Peter F. Drucker on Executive Leadership and Effectiveness. The Leader of The Future 2, eds. Frances Hesselbein and Marshall Goldsmith, pp. 3–27. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
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