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Reflections On My Interview With Peter F. Drucker: 15 Years Later, The Modern Workforce Still Needs His Wisdom

Contributor: Bruce Rosenstein
Posted: August 7, 2017

reflections

The following column originally published on BruceRosenstein.com.

On July 5, 2002, USA TODAY published my feature story on Peter Drucker, “Scandals Nothing New to Business Guru.” He and I were both in Los Angeles for the SLA/Special Libraries Association annual conference.

I was an attendee and he was one of the keynote speakers. (Last week I wrote about the 2017 SLA annual conference in Phoenix.)  It was the first time I had interviewed him in person; I’d interviewed him on earlier occasions for USA TODAY, by trading faxes.

The success of that interview, conducted over four hours the night before his keynote, and the subsequent article, emboldened me a couple of months later to finally start on an idea I’d had for quite some time, to write a book about Drucker and the individual, as opposed to Drucker and the organization. 

After considerable twists-and-turns, the book was published nearly seven years later, in 2009: Living in More Than One World: How Peter Drucker’s Wisdom Can Inspire and Transform Your Life.

I traveled to Los Angeles from the Washington, D.C. area, and Drucker made the 40 mile trip from his home in Claremont, California; where he was teaching at the Drucker School of Management, part of the Claremont Graduate University. We were both staying at the same hotel, the somewhat-futuristic Westin Bonaventure. 

We had agreed during a brief phone call the week before to meet at the bar. We met at the specified time, along with USAT photographer Robert Hanashiro. The three of us then went to Drucker’s room to start the interview and shoot the photos. When Robert was finished, Drucker and I walked to a Japanese restaurant within the hotel complex to do the rest of the interview. 

It was nearly 11 p.m. when we finished the Q&A; and Drucker, who was 92 at the time, delivered a standing-ovation keynote to a large audience early the following morning.

The Stars Aligned

In retrospect, the stars aligned in a number of ways to make that interview happen. One year earlier, Jeff De Cagna, who was then editor of SLA’s publication Information Outlook, assigned me to write a column, “All About Drucker,” for the eight months leading up to the conference.

As it got closer to the event, I knew that I wanted to try for an in-person interview for USA TODAY, where I had worked since late 1987, and would work until late 2008. 

As it happens, St. Martin’s Press was publishing Managing in the Next Society, a compendium of Drucker’s articles from The Economist and other publications, such as Leader to Leader (where I have been Managing Editor since 2011), Harvard Business Review, Atlantic Monthly and the Wall Street Journal.

The book’s publication became my route to getting the interview, and my editors Michael Clements and Jacqueline Blais said they would consider a feature if I could get him talking about the corporate scandals of the era (Enron and others). That worked out perfectly. Sample quote: “The brilliant ones are always the ones who get caught.” 

Michael and Jacqueline also said I had to interview others to get multiple viewpoints on Drucker’s life and work, which led to phone interviews in the following days with, among others, the late Warren Bennis, the dean of leadership writers/scholars; and Gary Hamel, one of the world’s most important management authors/consultants/professors. 

A further peg to the story, which we did not know about until it was announced after the interview but before publication, was that Drucker would be awarded, later in July, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

During the next several years, Drucker and I did several in-person interviews in Claremont for my book. In late 2004 came one of his most popular books, The Daily Drucker. Upon its publication, I did another interview with him via fax for the USA TODAY article “Drucker’s Reinventing Himself at Age 95.” One year later, he died eight days before his 96th birthday.

I’m convinced that Living in More Than One World and my 2009 book Create Your Future the Peter Drucker Way would not have happened if so many things had not come together for the 2002 interview. The list of people I’m grateful to, starting with Drucker himself for agreeing to meet with me, is long indeed.

The following are three direct quotes from my USA Today interview that can continue to guide the modern knowledge worker:

Drucker's views on the cyclical nature of business scandals still rings true today:

"These are businesses that start legitimately and overreach themselves, and then they begin to play games," he says.

"It all begins with the management having a brilliant idea," he says. "The brilliant ones are always the ones who get caught. And the things they invent, by the way, always become the successes of the next period — cleansed of their excesses and their risks."

Drucker operated as a "one-man organization," yet mastered efficiency:

"I don't even have a secretary," he says. "I just use a woman to do my typing, and I keep in touch with all my clients, even if I have no business with them for 20 years; they're still friends."


And it's worth noting that some of the most important points from the interview came from Drucker believers: 

John Flaherty, former dean of the business school at Pace University in New York, and author of Peter Drucker: Shaping the Managerial Mind, says that Drucker is "still relevant because his fundamentals are still relevant -- there is no other thinker out there who has done a more clear job and better job on the fundamentals."

To read my full 2002 interview with Drucker on USA Today, click here