Peter F. Drucker was an icon. His gift was in the ability to see the bigger picture, taking management consulting problems and seeing their relationship to the human condition, as well as re-defining the role of corporations in social responsibility.
Here’s a good summary of his social responsibility concepts from CJ Hayden’s blog:
Management by Social Objective
Peter Drucker died Nov. 11 at the age of 95. Known as the "father of modern management," Drucker was the author of more than 30 books, including the classic study Concept of the Corporation. As a former management consultant myself, I’ve known about Drucker for years. Although I’ve read the work of many people quoting Drucker, I had never read any of his books. But on the day he died, sitting on my coffee table was a copy of The World According to Peter Drucker by Jack Beatty, which arrived there purely by chance after someone discarded it at my neighborhood recycling center. It seems the universe wanted me to know a bit more about Drucker.
Concept of the Corporation began as an internal study commissioned by General Motors. When Drucker discovered that GM employees considered him a management spy and wouldn’t talk to him, he asked GM to let him write a book instead because "everybody in this country will do anything for a writer." But when the book was published in 1945, GM denounced it as an attack on the company. Drucker was calling for major changes in how GM was managed.
It wasn’t just GM that Drucker was talking about. According to Beatty, "Concept of the Corporation is a book about business as Moby-Dick is a book about whaling." Drucker used GM as an example of the sweeping changes he saw needed in corporations as social institutions. He argued that corporate life was our new social reality, and as such "has to carry the burden of our dreams… of equality of opportunity and personal achievement." The promise of an industrial society was that more people would be allowed to realize their personal dreams than ever before in history. But the corporation wasn’t doing its job.
Scores of new opportunities for advancement and personal fulfillment were being created by the industrial system, but it appeared they were being given to the "already advanced." The focus on purely economic criteria for success was an affront to dignity and destroyed self-respect. And the assembly-line style of corporate work with its monotony and rigid specialization was in opposition to natural human strengths.
Drucker was the first to insist that corporations were "affected with the public interest" and should show "social responsibility." He continued to sound that theme until his death. In his 1999 book Leading Beyond the Walls, Drucker said, "Social responsibility is usually defined as doing no harm to others in the pursuit of one’s own interest or of one’s own task." But what we need today is "what might be called civic responsibility: giving to the community in the pursuit of one’s own interest or of one’s own task."
It’s not quite what you would expect from the world’s best known business guru. I wonder how many of those management experts citing Drucker’s work have also never read it.