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Michael Hammer, who made reengineering a 1990s buzzword

Michael Hammer, who made reengineering a 1990s buzzword

Michael Hammer, 60, the co-author of a best-selling book, “Reengineering the Corporation," which some business experts say significantly influenced the way many corporations have reorganized their workplaces by focusing on the expertise of their employees, died on Wednesday in Boston. The cause was complications of a brain haemorrhage, said Joseph Tischler, a family friend.

Hammer wrote the book with James Champy; after it was published by Harper Business in 1993, it was on The New York Times nonfiction paperback best-seller list for 41 weeks. Its influence led to Hammer’s inclusion, in 1996, on Time magazine’s list of “America’s 25 Most Influential People."

“Reengineering the Corporation" promoted the idea of simplifying and reorganizing business departments by having workers break down their activities into logical, bite-size pieces, then take a “clean sheet" approach to reassembling their work for greater efficiency and productivity.

“Managers have to switch from supervisory roles to acting as facilitators, as enablers, and as people whose jobs are the development of people and their skills so that those people will be able to perform value-adding processes themselves," the book said. At the same time, it said, “those empowered to make the changes at lower levels must know they have the support of top management, or change won’t occur." By challenging traditional assumptions about the division of labor, Hammer often said, the book called for “the undoing of the Industrial Revolution."

Stephen P. Kaufman, a senior lecturer at the Harvard Business School, said that after the book’s release, “there was a large flurry of re-engineering projects, led both by consulting firms that would teach the process to companies and by the companies themselves."

Time magazine saw it differently—and laced with an element of controversy.

In its 1996 profile of Hammer, it said his book “set in motion a revolution the likes of which hadn’t been seen since Henry Ford introduced the assembly line. Like most revolutions, this one has been extremely messy. Such huge firms as Procter and Gamble, Xerox and American Standard have successfully taken a Hammer to their structures."

“At the same time," the profile continued, “re-engineering has become synonymous with less elegant forms of reorganization, notably downsizing, in which CEOs fire workers wholesale to make a company more ‘efficient’".

Hammer and Champy were deeply concerned about the misuse of their premise. “It is astonishing to me the extent to which the term re-engineering has been hijacked, misappropriated and misunderstood," Hammer told Time, saying that ideally, re-engineering should promote greater production and create more jobs.

Michael Gartner Hammer was born in Annapolis, Maryland, on 13 April 1948, the only child of Henry and Helen Hammer, who had arrived from Poland after surviving the Nazi concentration camps. Henry Hammer was a rabbi.

Hammer earned his bachelor’s degree in math in 1968, a master’s degree in electrical engineering in 1970, and a doctorate in computer science in 1973, all at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After graduating, he taught computer science at MIT.

In 1987, he became a management consultant, work that started his thinking and research for “Reengineering the Corporation." He wrote three other books: “The Reengineering Revolution," “Beyond Reengineering," and “The Agenda." He also wrote articles for publications including The Harvard Business Review, The Economist and The Sloan Management Review.

Hammer is survived by his wife of 35 years, the former Phyllis Thurm; three daughters, Jessie, Alison and Dana; and a son, David.

“I’m saddened and offended by the idea that companies exist to enrich their owners," he once wrote. “That is the very least of their roles; they are far more worthy, more honourable, and more important than that. Without the vital creative force of business, our world would be impoverished beyond reckoning."

©2008/The New York Times

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