By Elizabeth Edersheim 
When the Leader to Leader Institute asked me to blog about my book, The Definitive Drucker, which was published three years ago, I thought, what would Peter Drucker have asked me about what I learned? I realized he’d have asked, what happened that was unexpected? And what did you learn?
The first unexpected result: The nature of the U.S. response to the book. I received numerous e-mails from readers in the United States, saying that the book changed their perspectives and practices. These came from doctors, lawyers, small-business owners, and executives with no business training, who happened to pick-up the book. The gratitude these letters expressed was overwhelming. One business owner wrote, “I run a wedding dress shop and never thought a management book could help me. I started reading it in a bookstore, and couldn’t put it down. Your book has changed how I make decisions and serve customers.” Many of the notes emphasized the universality of Peter Drucker, asserting that everyone can use his insights and thoughts.

The second unexpected result: I saw for myself that business frameworks, practices, and language are a great equalizer in a world divided into diverse religions, cultures, nations, political views, and peoples—and that Drucker’s thinking applies across the globe. The book has been translated into 32 languages and has taken me on an eye-opening global journey. I’ve visited seven countries in the last 12 months and corresponded with editors and readers in nine others. In Saudi Arabia, where women are forbidden to drive, a female business owner wrote to me with her thoughts on Drucker. In Japan, entrepreneurs are fascinated with Drucker, and a society has formed to study and promote his philosophies and practices. In China, one of the most respected CEOs, Zhang Ruimin, quotes Drucker religiously at Haier’s Saturday morning management meetings. The winners of Drucker innovation awards in Korea are global leaders and enduring benchmarks. What’s the strong attraction to Drucker in Vietnam, China, Korea, and Japan? Possibly the emphasis on people in Drucker’s philosophy, which mirrors the local cultures in some respects.

The third unexpected result is Drucker’s ability to stand the test of time. Though my book is admittedly only three years old, it draws on work, writing, and relationships from throughout Drucker’s career. Every company, Drucker complimented has done well. Every controversy and caveat Drucker raised has visibly elevated its ugly head. And the book’s observations about companies have held up despite the fundamental shifts we’ve seen in the past three years:

For example:

  • Medtronic continues to be innovative despite all the healthcare debates and their impact on private companies in that sector.
  • P&G is the success story of the decade, with Lafley named CEO of the year by Fortune, Forbes, Business Week, and Leader-to-Leader. Of course, P&G has faced day-to-day challenges in the current recession. For example, they had to decided to compete with private label products, introducing Tide Basic without bells and whistles. It is a dangerous strategy but one that might be the right response to the new realities. The recession changed the market, and management listened to their customers. They didn’t insist that every Tide customer needed to pay 30 percent more for Tide’s high-quality features.
  • JetBlue, which we highlighted as a star player, hit a bump in the road. Their performance fell off during winter storms. They had grown beyond their system’s capabilities. They stepped back and fixed the system, and are doing well again.
  • Peter Drucker had predicted that GE’s Finance group would get in trouble, and said they should sell NBC. He praised Immelt for jumping into green energy before anyone else.
  • The Myelin Repair Foundation is in the process of commercializing new drugs ahead of schedule and is moving ahead to address new challenges with new collaborations. It continues to be an amazing story.

Looking back and re-reading the book, there are many other companies built on Drucker that can be written about, such as Haier, Yuhan, Kimberly-Clark, Park Electronics, and FirstService.

Knowing Peter Drucker and writing about his ideas changed the way I listen and think. I’m hearing more and asking more, with a new appreciation for helping others think. I am very grateful for the time I have spent with Peter Drucker, his family, and his disciples. It was and continues to be a great opportunity.

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