Jul 3, 2008

The Father of Management Consulting

I know, elsewhere on this blog we've called Marvin Bower that. However Peter Drucker's PhD student in this article says that Drucker was not only the father of modern management but the father of management consulting too.

He said that his experience with management consulting started just prior to the U.S. entry into World War II. With a doctoral degree, he was mobilized for the war effort in a civilian capacity and ordered to report to a certain army colonel. Peter was told that he was to serve as a "management consultant." Drucker told us that he had no idea what a management consultant was. He checked a dictionary, but the term couldn't be found. He said he went to the library and the bookstore. "Today," he told us, "you will find shelves of titles about management. In those days, there was almost nothing. The few books available didn't include the term, much less explain it." He asked several friends but had no better luck. They didn't know what a management consultant was either.
On the appointed time and date Drucker proceeded to the colonel's office, wondering all the way exactly what he was getting in to. A receptionist asked him to wait and an unsmiling sergeant came to escort him to the colonel. This must have been a little intimidating for a young immigrant who not too many years earlier had fled from the military dictatorship of Nazi Germany with almost all party members in one sort of uniform or another. 
Peter was led into the office by yet another stern-faced assistant. The colonel glanced at Peter's orders and invited him to be seated. He asked Peter to tell him about himself. He questioned Drucker at some length about his background and education. But though they seemed to talk on and on, Drucker did not learn what the colonel's office was responsible for, nor was he given any understanding as to what he would be doing for the colonel as a "management consultant." It seemed as if they were talking round and round to no purpose.
Drucker was more than a little uncomfortable in dealing with the colonel. He hoped that he would soon get to the point and explain exactly what kind of work he would be involved in for the war effort. He was growing increasingly frustrated. Finally, Drucker could stand it no longer. "Please sir, can you tell me what a management consultant does?" he asked respectfully.
Drucker told the class that the colonel glared at him for what seemed like a long time and then responded: "Young man, don't be impertinent." "By which," Drucker told us, "I knew that he didn't know what a management consultant did either." 
Drucker knew that someone who did know what was expected of a management consultant had made this assignment. Having lived in England and read Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, Drucker knew what a "consulting detective" did. With that knowledge and the insight that the colonel did not know anything about management consulting, Drucker asked direct questions about the colonel's responsibilities and problems. Peter then laid out some options about what should be done and the work, he, Drucker should do. The colonel was interested and clearly relieved. He accepted Peter's proposals in their entirety. This proved to be Drucker's first successful consulting engagement.
So, Peter Drucker was not only "the father of modern management;" one could make a case for him being the father of modern management consulting as well. Of course, the Harvard Business School awards this title to HBS graduate Marvin Bower, famed director of McKinsey & Company from 1950 to 1967 and a partner of the firm until 1992. Interestingly, the cubicle right next to Marvin Bower's when Bower worked for the government during World War II was occupied by ... Peter Drucker.

Hmm. So the real inspiration for consultants happens to be a fictional character - Sherlock Holmes?