Peter Drucker’s Upbringing Explains How He Became a Management Genius
Peter Drucker is arguably the most famous management thinker of the last hundred years, and perhaps of all time.
The big question is: How did an otherwise inexperienced young man, born and raised in Austria in the early part of the 20th century become The Father of Modern Management?
How did he become an adviser to powerful chief executives and heads of state, and an author of dozens of books read by thousands of businesspeople?
How did he become the person the world’s top entrepreneurs—including Jack Welch (the legendary CEO of GE), Rich Warren (pastor and founder of the famed Saddleback Church), and Minglo Shao (a Chinese billionaire)—turned to when they needed advice to stay relevant and competitive in an ever-changing business world?
His First Big Splash Was a Major Failure
When he was 20, Drucker wrote a column for a major German newspaper. He predicted a rosy future and a bull market worldwide.
Weeks later, the global depression forced him to retract these words in a second column. He acknowledged his major blunder and he learned not to repeat the same mistake twice.
He continued to make predictions throughout his career. Most of them were years ahead of their time and nearly all were heralded as being spot-on.
Drucker predicted everything from the rise of the “knowledge worker” (a term he coined) to the popularity of executive education programs on the Internet.
Drucker’s ability to so clearly see into the future rivals Nostradamus, minus the mysticism and difficulty in interpretation!
But Drucker didn’t claim to predict the future. He said he merely “looked through the window” and noted what had already happened. Then he took one very important step ahead of anyone else: He asked himself what these developments meant for the future.
That’s how he became the first to assert that workers should be treated as assets in terms of accounting, not liabilities. And it’s how he became one of the first to promote management by objectives—a process where employees were assessed on their ability to meet specific goals, not on generalized perceptions of success.
When Drucker left home, he set out for Hamburg, Germany where he enrolled in law school at the local university and secured an apprenticeship at an export firm.
Drucker was clearly a master multitasker. In addition to school and work, Drucker spent considerable time reading in an effort to learn about as many fields as possible.
After law school, Drucker made another curious decision. He moved to Frankfurt to become a journalist and began a doctoral program. So, there he was again, writing and working simultaneously.
When he finished his doctorate, he contacted an uncle at the University of Cologne in hopes of getting a teaching job. But before he could be hired, Hitler came to power. With Jewish lineage on both sides of his family, he fled the country.
Many of Drucker’s contemporaries with similar ethnic backgrounds refused to accept what Hitler’s rise meant. Drucker had read Mein Kampf.
He knew that Hitler was the most dangerous man in Europe. Others refused to believe that anything could happen to the Jews in “civilized” Germany.
They were wrong. Drucker dropped everything and left for England within days of Hitler becoming German chancellor.
The basis for his development was now set: Work hard and develop your talents, do more than others thought possible—simultaneously, if required—and take immediate action based on good predictions.
The magnitude of his accurate prediction is obvious today, but it might not have been back in 1933.
A look at Drucker’s career shows his self-development method was simple:
1. Read daily for knowledge
2. Write regularly for self-development and recognition
3. Plan ahead
4. Understand what today’s developments mean for the future, and have the courage to take personal actions as a result, if necessary.
This story was adapted from Peter Drucker on Consulting (LID, 2016)