The International Writers Magazine

James Skinner

he complete phrase is: ‘Who needs politicians when we have Peter Drucker’. If I remember correctly, the anonymous person who made the statement was lecturing to us engineering students many moons ago on the need to replace political thinking within governments with ‘plain common sense business management’. Our lecturer continued: ‘This illustrious thinker has more insight into the future of national economics than most of our mediocre governors of today regardless of their ideological creed.’

The late Peter Drucker

Naturally, we were all eager at the time to find out more about who the hell he was talking about.
Peter Drucker was born in Vienna, Austria at the turn of the last century and was educated in Austria, England and Germany. He majored in international law in Frankfurt, but returned to London to work in international banking as one of the bank’s economists. Sensing the looming ‘doom-clouds’ hovering over Europe, Peter Drucker followed the path of many anti-Nazi Europeans and immigrated to the United States in 1937. An outstanding scholar and as our tutor said, a brilliant forward thinker, he became one of the leading experts in management theory with more than thirty books to his credit, translated into 20 languages. He won several awards and honorary degrees bestowed upon by various US and other institutions around the world. I remember some of his works, in particular his simplistic reasoning on how to run business and his consistent emphasis on the human element of management. In his book The Effective Executive his opening statement was, ‘how can I best serve?’ He was the grandfather of modern marketing skills; an awesome model difficult to follow.

Peter Drucker passed away on November 11th at the ripe old age of 95. He left a widow, four children and six grandchildren. Not many news correspondents reported his death. After all, he was part of the elite business echelon of America. The masses were uninterested in millionaire icons, let alone their mentors. Yet more than one prominent CEO publicly stated his or her grievance at the departure of one of the true instructors of entrepreneurial hindsight who never departed from either logic or ethics in his messages of management philosophy. From all exerts written about his death the following from Rita Sussmuth is probably the most fitting. I quote: ‘Democracy thrives from the participation and active involvement of the social sector; of individuals of community and of civil society. Peter Drucker had gone beyond merely recognizing the high value of the social sector; he had worked to improve its effectiveness, strengthening society as whole’.

So why am I writing about this guy and what’s he got to do with politicians?

If you write as a columnist in any public media you are always exposed to criticism; its part of the price you pay for voicing your opinion. I’ve been writing a weekly piece in my local rag for just under a year and one day I decided to transpose some of Peter Drucker’s theories of management onto a political platform in an article entitled, ‘Are politicians obsolete?’ In it I assumed that if countries, regions or even town councils were considered as companies, run by managers and not politicians the world would be better off. Using Drucker’s basic management principles I kicked off by assuming that all citizens or at least tax payers were the shareholders whilst presidents, prime ministers or tribal chiefs and corresponding ministers were the board of governors. Business would be carried out by proper plans based on profit and loss accounting and expert financial planning and budgeting. The day to day running process would be no different to that of a large corporation. I concluded by comparing the curriculum vitae of certain present day political leaders to that of a standard advertisement in a management magazine for a top corporate executive. The former just didn’t fit the bill.

I’ve rarely had anybody comment on my work until I wrote this essay. I got hammered. A reader commented that I had no idea of the role of politicians in a democratic society. How dare I compare ‘Capitalism’ with ‘Socialism’! Who was I to insinuate that politicians had no idea how to run a country?
Not because my article compared the similarities of management theories to those of government but because I dared to question the irrelevance of political rhetoric between different ideologies that in effect had no real impact on the daily life of ordinary citizens in supposedly democratic societies. I inadvertently implied that politicians the world over were either crooked, stupid, naive or incompetent, but what is worse, nobody ever held them accountable. I unfortunately touched a nerve because I used the handling of the Iraq war as an example.

Picture the scenario whereby George Bush and Spain’s Prime Minister, Rodríguez Zapatero are reviewing the Iraq war. They are businessmen and not politicians.

‘George, we’ve got a board meeting next week and our profits in Iraq are down by 30%. In fact we’re already in the red. I suggest we pull out of the area and invest in North Korea instead,’ said Condoleeza Rice. ‘Shucks woman,’ replies George, ‘you don’t have to keep reminding me. I’ve seen the figures. We’re losing customers like flies. Dick’s been lousing it up and I’ve tried to sack him but there’s this damn clause in his contract. It would cost us billions!’
‘How about floating Iraq Inc. on the European stock markets? You know, with luck the Brits might buy us out. Maybe form a joint venture with the Italians.’
‘Nah! The Germans and the French would slap their damn veto on the table; besides there’s too much competition coming from Jordan and Syria. Their bomb production far outweighs ours and is much cheaper.’
‘We do have an option, sir.’
‘What is it?’ Condoleeza picks up the phone and hands it to George. With a broad smile she says, ‘I’ve got Ariel on the line. Let him fill you in.’
‘ZP, the yanks have broken the contract! They’ve been sending us false reports on the production figures in Iraq. All the items on the list, you know, nuclear bombs, poisonous gas supplies are wrong!’ said Sr. Moratinos, his Overseas Export Manager. ‘You mean to say that we sent our installation team complete, with demolition tools out there and they haven’t any raw material to work on? What about our clients?’
‘Their credit’s run out I’m afraid. They’re so broke they don’t even leave their houses to go to the store.’
‘OK. We’ll rescind the contract, bring the team back. We’ll take our case to the International Stock Exchange Tribunal for the rebates.’
‘What about our other partners; the Brits, the Poles and the rest?’
‘To hell with them! We can’t afford to lose any more money. Besides, I’m due for promotion soon, you know, Chairman of the Board. I’m not going to screw up this time.’
I can only assume Drucker would appreciate this small dose of humour as I humbly interpolate his wise teachings to that of today’s insane politics.

© James Skinner. December 15 2005.
James is a weekly columnist based in Vigo Spain
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