Peter Drucker’s concepts are still relevant: Thomas Horan

Drucker’s ideas are attractive and meaningful, especially to those who want to work as managers and leaders, says Thomas Horan, dean of Drucker School of Management

Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Thomas Horan is dean of Drucker School of Management and director of Center for Information Systems and Technology (CISAT) at Claremont Graduate University (CGU), US. Horan earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from CGU and has served on the faculty for more than two decades. That’s what he calls commitment! What first attracted him to come to CGU is what still motivates him today. Namely, the intimate and trans-disciplinary manner of teaching, a collaborative culture and an opportunity to perpetuate the legacy of the great writer, teacher, management guru cum scholar, Peter Drucker. In an interview, Horan spoke on a number of issues including the relevance of Drucker. Edited excerpts:

What is the relevance of Peter Drucker today?

Peter Drucker was a great man who lived a great life. He wrote about 40 books and passed away in 2005. But actually, he has influenced a lot of principles; his writing is very contemporary, timeless; the idea that companies should be socially responsible, this kind of humility in leadership is resonant in a lot of different ways today. And we see this in our students today. His concepts are attractive and meaningful, especially to those who want to work as managers and leaders, and our job has been to make sure that we present that in the most contemporary way. So, for example, we pay attention particularly to the millennial generation so that it doesn’t sound like that ‘Oh, this is what grandpa used to say’ but rather ‘Wow, this is a lot more interesting, more human than some sort of textbook approach to business.’ So, I think in that way he is relevant. You know, I have met him, sat in on his classes when a student here, and so I knew his work well, but since I’m dean, I’m surprised the resonance his work has still, so in that sense he is very relevant.

Drucker has also written a lot about decisions and the effective decision-making process. Do you think the decision-making process has changed today?

Good question. I think his philosophy was very much about empowering the knowledge worker—this is a label that Drucker first coined in 1959 in a book called Landmarks of Tomorrow, and much of Drucker’s subsequent work talked about how to make these knowledge workers more productive. And the use of this term has risen steadily since the 1960s. So, once you empower the workers, you know then they don’t have to worry about how slow or fast decisions are made. It is about making the right decisions.

As dean, how do you ensure that the curriculum remains contextually relevant and contemporary?

We spend a fair amount of time making sure that’s the case. We pay a lot of emphasis on skills, and what the attributes of a good manager are. Our executive-level programmes focus on the Drucker Leadership Arc that traces the principles of leadership through the arc of self-management to the organization’s role in society. The school embraces Drucker’s philosophy that the practice of management requires a holistic perspective, blending analytical skills with a firm grasp of the human dimension of business. Drucker students learn these skills in small classes taught by internationally-renowned professors who have extensive professional experience and great academic credentials.

What is it about the Drucker School that separates it from other management schools?

We offer a unique focus on the creative economy, creative industries and creative management practices, inspiring students to think rigorously and ethically about complex, ambiguous issues; make sound strategic decisions; and lead others to achieve common purposes. We strongly believe in the Drucker philosophy that management is a human enterprise—an art as well as a science—that integrates a range of perspectives from the liberal arts and humanities.

Peter Drucker wrote the landmark book The Practice of Management, and only the Drucker School features this practice-based approach to management and leadership. Marketing, finance, accounting, strategy—yes, of course, you will master the basics. But at the Drucker School, you will also learn your own management style, how to effectively manage teams, and how to lead organizations to be productive and socially responsible.

Our approach stresses the holistic practice of management, and we facilitate this through distinct degrees and courses across disciplines and fields.