If You Think Jacob Marley’s Ghost Was on a Mission, Then Get the Ghost of Peter Drucker on Your Case

All weekend long, the ghost of Peter Drucker perched just behind my right shoulder, talking to me all the way. In the end, it got to be a little much. But I knew how to get rid of the apparition. “Now, look, Dr. Drucker…” I said. And the ghost was gone.

Drucker had a doctorate in international law, but he disdained being called “Dr.” He described himself as a newspaperman, which he was at one time. The fact that he chose to devote his writing skills to more than three dozen books and literally thousands of articles was a profound loss to some newspaper’s readership. Because had he stayed in that profession, he’d have made one of the century’s great columnists or editorial writers.

“Peter could look around corners,” philanthropist Eli Broad told The Los Angeles Times. Another admirer, Michael Useem, management professor at the Wharton School at the U. of Pennsylvania, said he “was like the exceptionally insightful anthropologist who visits remote tribe and understands things about the tribe that the tribe itself doesn’t understand.”

As you most probably have heard, management guru Peter Drucker died last Friday at 95.

That gave people like ex-General Electric CEO Jack Welch a chance to recount how they had been influenced by Drucker’s laser-like gifts of attention and aimsmanship. Welch said all he needed to understand how to restructure GE’s unwieldy, often unworkable corporate empire were two questions from Drucker:

“If you weren’t already in this business, would you enter it today? And if not, what are you going to do about it?”

Welch soon decided, he said, that if GE couldn’t be No. 1 or No. 2 in an industry, it would get out of the field.

I couldn’t get Drucker out of my mind. Or his ghost from behind my shoulder.

Out for a drive, my wife, Sherry, and I happened on a restaurant we’d not seen before. Two steps inside the front door and it was obvious to us that it was brand, spankin’ new. It is a cavernous place, with two huge seating areas, one side a gargantuan sports bar, the other a massive dining room, both ultra-modern in decor—sleek, minimalist, spotless, scratchless. Numerous large flat-panel TV sets hover like flying billboards around the room. In addition, there are giant, multi-paneled LCD displays. Everything is automated in the restrooms. Reach for the water faucet and water gushes out. Reach for a paper towel and out it spools. Get up or walk away from the other fixtures, and good bathroom etiquette is performed for you without the need to push any handle.

At our booth, the staff clustered around us like we were royalty despite the factor that there was nothing on the menu priced higher than $11.95.

For a time I forgot Drucker’s ghost. But then the food was delivered, and all the restaurant’s pretensions evaporated in a miasma of mediocrity. We weren’t expecting haute cuisine. But my brunch-time platter of eggs, sausage, biscuits and gravy looked like a first-week-of-school project in a junior high Home Ec class. Sherry’s concoction of “pulled pork and eggs” drew this comment from a woman who would walk around the block to avoid hurting your feelings: “This is very close to being bad.”

Looking back over my shoulder, I didn’t even wait for Peter Drucker’s ghost to speak. “It’s the kitchen,” I said to the Drucker apparition. “They’ve spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on design and décor and staff training, and haven’t given a thought to the impression they want the food to make.”

The ghost just nodded.

And suddenly I understood what Drucker really was. Just to make sure of the nuances, I came home and looked the word up.

My dictionary said it meant “one who forms and expresses judgments of the merits, faults, value, or truth of a matter.”

Bingo.

At heart, Peter Drucker was a critic, one of the best the world of management may see for a long time.

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