Remembering Peter Drucker: An Avid Bystander

Today is the 111th birth anniversary of Peter Drucker, the father of management. Long ago, in 1987, when I was a management student, we had a course called Principles of Management which would build on the core management concepts to illustrate the practice of management. I read about Drucker and his classic “Concept of the Corporation”. That book was published in 1946 and presented an idea – employees are resources rather than a cost to the organization! That was it and then I moved into a sales career and mostly remembered sales and marketing strategy frameworks that could be employed in solving few real business problems. I remember very fondly, the pleasant appreciation from my seniors (I was 6 months old in the company), when I referred to distributors as channel partners! About twenty years in my career and a quote attributed to Peter Drucker appeared in The Economist. The quote suggested that a great marketing should make selling look superfluous. Clearly, a comment that can be disputed by any sales professional. However, there was another side of it which hints at the greatness or vastness of marketing as a discipline. Drucker, after all, was unambiguous when it came to defining the purpose of business – to create a customer. And to serve that purpose he considered marketing to be the most scientific amongst all business disciplines. If you look around for Drucker’s writings on marketing, it would be difficult to find one, yet some of the foundational marketing constructs such as marketing myopia, market orientation was based on his conceptual interdisciplinary work.

 In 2009, the journal of the academy of marketing science published a special issue which carried an article titled “Peter Drucker on marketing: an exploration of five tenets”. This article traced the influence of Drucker’s work on marketing academia and outlined the five tenets of marketing. The authors (Uslay, Morgan and Sheth,2009) identified several marketing constructs that had the roots in the work of Drucker. For example, in the roots of the concept of market orientation lies the Drucker’s insights on the concept of marketing. Marketing myopia which is credited to Theodore Levitt (1960) was actually a buildup on Drucker’s work, a decade ago, when he attempted to project the future on to the present understanding of business. A rich body of marketing literature benefitted from the work of Drucker and a systematic review of this literature suggest that his work influenced the development of five main tenets of marketing;

  • The marketing concept: creating value for customers
  • Corporate social responsibility: Broadened role of marketing
  • The interface of marketing and innovation
  • Marketing strategy
  • Future of globalization: rise of non-national enterprises

As a bystander, Drucker observed and made connections which were impressive and profound. However, he stayed away from scholarly research and shared his ideas mostly through his books and HBR articles. Scholars do admit that Drucker’s reliance on others to disseminate his concepts facilitated academic researchers of different disciplines to broaden the ideas he pioneered and marketing was one big beneficiary. After all, according to Drucker, a business has just two functions; marketing and innovation. As an interdisciplinary thought leader, his ideas influenced all aspects of business including marketing. He saw the future clearly; “Managers need to learn to manage in situations when they do not have command authority”. This was in 1993! His work influenced everyone, including Winston Churchill and Bill Gates.

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