Book Review of Guide To The Management Gurus by Carol Kennedy

Ministhy Dileep | August 20,2010 10:59 am IST


Carol Kennedy, with her business journalistic experience of 16 years, has produced a highly readable and informative book on the Management Gurus (Published in 1991).

In fact in one of her latest books, "The Next Big Idea", (Random House Business Books; August 28, 2002), the author has again brought forth her unique ability to analyze big ideas in the corporate world in a precise manner.

The strength of the writer seems to have evolved over a decade, with an ability to get to the heart of an issue and render it in an extremely readable form for the lay man.

The writing is quite delightful, full of unexpected wit. At the end of each chapter, one gets a clear idea of the Guru and his works. One even feels confident of posing as an expert on the subject!

The Introduction narrates the evolution of the "Guruhood" - from Machiavelli to the likes of Peter Drucker and Alfred P. Sloan. Gurus, says the author, are divided into those with "One Big Idea", (Edward De Bono and his lateral thinking for example) and those with Multiple Ideas (Charles Handy, Peter Drucker and Tom Peters would fall in this category). With typical irony, the author states what it takes to be a Management Guru: "Timing, originality, forcefulness; a gift for self-promotion and perhaps above all else, the ability to encapsulate memorably what others immediately recognize as true - these are the marks of the modern management guru!" * She justifies the statement by pointing out that the snappy slogan, "Stick to the knitting", of the famous duo Tom Peters and Waterson, (In Search of Excellence) was just the same old wine of fundamental truths. Some of them, adopted from the works of Chandler, Barnard and Mayo - "... it was partly cannibalized from these vehicles!" **

In the 33 chapters on Gurus, Taylor, Weber, McGregor, Maslow, Elton Mayo, Drucker et al are discussed along with some more "not so famous" and "famous" names. For example, Edgar Schein, typically discussed amongst HR professionals (Career anchors and psychological contract), shares pages with Kenichi Ohmae of the Japanese global business strategy fame. Reg Revans of Action Learning fame is next to Michael Porter, quoted by every management student worth her salt.

This balance of the Guruhood, renders the book a very interesting read, provoking and enlightening at the same time. One discovers to one's humility, that the ideas of a certain Chester Barnard, buried in an impossibly tough book called, "The functions of the Executive", was the one toasted by Tom Peters and Waterman as, "The first balanced treatment of the management process." He apparently identified the essence of the word "Organization man" - the quintessence of a typical bureaucrat! Phew!

Very interesting tidbits emerged from some readings. Like the fact that both the Quality Gurus, Edwards Deming and Joseph Juran, had worked at the Western Electric's Hawthorne Plant, some years prior to Elton Mayo's famous experiment! Also consider Reg Revans citing the Buddha for justifying the antiquity of Action Learning: "As an early believer in action learning, (he was) teaching others that it is from their own real experiences that the most fundamental truths are most likely to be learned" *. Or Charles Handy's tongue-in-cheek comment on why he often came out with far-reaching ideas like the Shamrock organization: "... a slightly irreverent streak and a tendency to ask WHY?" **

To a management student on the look out for the Guru's wisdom, the book offers plenty. Consider the following instances:

After a chapter on Rosabeth Moss Canter, incidentally the only woman in the Great Management Guruhood, one ends up knowing that:

• Ms. Canter introduced the concept of the "post-entrepreneurial corporation" that empowers individuals as a force for change.
• Her first book, "Men and Women of the Corporation" (1977) analyzed the bureaucratic factors that locked people into predetermined roles in an industrial corporation. It explored, how such a situation, prevented the full blooming of the potential of its employees.
• She has written "Change Masters" and "When giants learn to dance" - two influential works on American corporatedom. She also has edited the Harvard Business Review.

Michael Porter's strategies, inclusive of branding for Competitive advantage, is explained after a quip that, "He himself has become a brand for which buyers are willing to pay!" The drivers for competitive positions of both companies and countries are elucidated. His strategic recommendations are distilled into six principles, easy to appreciate.
Peter Drucker is introduced as the "Management Guru's Management Guru." (Incidentally, in a recent Harvard Business Survey, this quip of Carol Kennedy's was borne out statistically). Viennese Sage Drucker's ubiquitous contributions, including the Basic principles of management, Management by Objectives, Privatization, Putting the customer first, Role of CEO in corporate strategy, Structure follows strategy, Decentralisation et al, are explored crisply.

Warren Bennis is famous for his quotation, "Managers do things right. Leaders do the right thing". Bennis's vision of the organization of the future in his work, "The Temporary Society", (1968) is shown to have identified the need for "adhocracy", or "project based teams', which was later explored by Alvin Toffler in his "Future Shock" and both by Henry Mintzberg and Waterman in their respective works. The continuity of ideas as well as the gradual building up of the edifice of a new theory is delineated.
In conclusion, if one wants to make sense of the plethora of management jargon thrown around in corporatedom, this book is the ultimate answer! It is the epitome of the saying, "Clarity of thought and brevity of expression." An absolute must for every practicing manager's library.




Ministhy S. is PG (PM&IR) from XLRI-Jamshedpur, and currently, an IAS officer working in the UP cadre. She has written five books - 'Unequal Equations', 'Learning with Tippy Tortoise: Tales for Kids', 'Happy Birthday: Poems for Kids' and a novel published by Dronequill Publishers, Bangalore....

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Guest on 10/08/10 at 04:37 am

I just discovered Carol Kennedy's book, The Next Big Idea". I am instantly charmed and captivated.

Tremendous synthesis or distillation of everything I believe as a business woman, entrepreneur and start-up expert. Amazing and wonderful.

Mary McMartin