This week marks Peter Drucker’s 113th birthday. He was born on November 19, 1909, and died on November 11, 2005, only eight days before his 96th birthday.
Despite the more than one century of time that has passed since his birth, his wisdom prevails. We use his writings in our work with clients every day, and we wanted to use his birthday as an opportunity to recognize his impact.
Peter Drucker was born in Austria and received a doctoral degree from the University of Frankfort in 1931. He fled Germany in 1933 when Hitler rose to power and moved to the United States in 1937. Seeing firsthand what happens when society “stops functioning” is what inspired his life’s work.
His early writings forever changed how we think about economies and management. He was exceptionally gifted at foreseeing the biggest changes in our modern world, analyzing complexities, and communicating a way forward. He was the first that looked at an organization as both an economic and social entity. The Concept of the Corporation, written in 1946, examined the assembly line at General Motors and explained how an empowered workforce can increase productivity.
According to The British Library:
“The fundamental difference between Drucker and GM was that GM saw the workforce as a cost in the quest for profits, whereas Drucker saw people as a resource, and considered that they would be more able to satisfy customers if they had more involvement in their jobs and gained some satisfaction from doing them.”
Drucker was decades ahead of his time regarding business leadership and management principles. He realized that his concepts were applicable to the nonprofit sector and created the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management in 1990, which was later renamed the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute.
In his 70 years of writing, he was the prolific author of 39 books, not to mention the countless articles, lectures, and books written by others about him. His biography is as relevant now as it was when he was actively publishing. Our favorite book to share is The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask Your Organization, which drives our strategic planning process with clients.
Another favorite is the Harvard Business Review article “What Business Can Learn From Nonprofits” published in 1989.
“There is also, however, a clear warning to American business in this transformation of volunteer work. The students in the program for senior and middle-level executives in which I teach work in a wide diversity of businesses: banks and insurance companies, large retail chains, aerospace and computer companies, real estate developers, and many others. But most of them also serve as volunteers in nonprofits—in a church, on the board of the college they graduated from, as scout leaders, with the YMCA or the Community Chest or the local symphony orchestra. When I ask them why they do it, far too many give the same answer: Because in my job there isn’t much challenge, not enough achievement, not enough responsibility; and there is no mission, there is only expediency.”
This excerpt sounds similar to his critique of GM’s treatment of their labor force some 43 years earlier.
Nonprofit organizations have long created value and meaning for professional and volunteer workers by focusing on mission and impact. Leveraging the deep connection that people have to missions is critical in the current economic conditions where we face labor shortages and workforce disruptions.
We think Peter Drucker would agree.
As we celebrate his birthday, we recognize that his work is more relevant today than ever before. A full timeline of his life and his life’s work can be found at the Drucker Institute.
Article by: Kerri Laubenthal Mollard, Founder & CEO