Learning from Management Masters Over the Millennia

by Hank Boerner

One of my treasured media/publishing colleagues is Morgen Witzel, who is among the most prolific of business writers.  He’s been editor of the Thomson Reuters journal, Corporate Finance Review, for about 15 years. (For the past dozen years at his invitation when Enron was collapsing I have been the corporate governance and corporate sustainability contributing editor so he is my editor as well.)

Morgen writes solid business books that I find very helpful. We share an interest in business history and historical and influential figures in business affairs (like the late Peter Drucker).  Recently, Morgen authored a book about Tata, the multinational industrial giant of India.  Now he has a new book out — Management for the Masters, “from Confucius to Warren Buffett, 20 timeless principles for management.”

I asked Morgen what his thoughts were as he was researching and writing his latest work…what were the timeless insights and long-lived wisdom that he learned and that I could share you with, dear reader.

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His response:

“Management from the Masters is a distillation of timeless principles that govern business today. These principles are gleaned from the ‘masters’, those wise individuals whose ideas remain as relevant today as ever – and will continue to be relevant through all our tomorrows.

“Some of the masters are respected business gurus. W. Edwards Deming, the master of quality, knew that quality is not just a bolt-on, it is one of the fundamental purposes of business. Peter Drucker, who defined ‘management’ more closely than anyone before or sense, reminds us that without customers, no business can survive. Andrew Grove’s rule, that ‘only the paranoid survive’, stands as a salutary reminder against overconfidence. Henri Fayol’s insistence that management is about coordination of the parts to achieve a greater end remains at the heart of purposive management, and Joseph Juran’s 80-20 rule, or ‘Pareto’s Law’ which shows how 80 per cent of value is created by 20 per cent of people is proven right over and over again.

“Some come from broader spheres. The physicists who developed the concept of ‘time’s arrow’ and the law of entropy tell us that the status quo is impossible to maintain, that everything changes, while Charles Darwin and his colleagues remind us that in business as in life, those who survive are those most capable of evolution. Confucius’s golden rule, that we should treat others as we wish to be treated ourselves, reminds us of why justice and fairness are so important in business, and the ancient Indian sage Kautilya shows us how management is in fact a duty, not just a set of tasks to be performed.

“Ancient and modern, Eastern and Western, these are the people whose thinking still counts. They are the true gurus, the one’s whose teachings will never fade away. We can learn from them. Indeed, if we are to survive, we must learn from them.: (end)

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I recommend you look into Management for the Masters – more information is here:  http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/management-from-the-masters-9781472904768/

Media of Management from the Masters

And if you would like to communicate with Morgen his email is: morgen@carucate.co.uk

More about him and his work can be found on his web platforms:

web:  www.morgenwitzel.com – blog – www.morgenwitzel.com/blog – Twitter – @MorgenWitzel


Welcome – I Invite You to “Stay Tuned” To My Blog

Stay Tuned in the early days of commercial radio broadcasting, the tube-packed receiver had to be carefully tuned to a specific frequency to hear the program then traveling over the airwaves. I have one of the 1930s RCA Victor radios (in handsome wood cabinet) here in the office.  “Tuning in” to a frequency really did take a bit of work.  And so the broadcasters would advise, “stay tuned to this station for…” and “tune in every Sunday to hear…”  Having grown up with radio, and having worked in radio, over the years of my writing, I returned often to the phrase, “stay tuned.”

It’s an apt description for what I do – as a researcher, trend-detector and trendwatcher, I “tune in” to things going on that could have consequences near- or longer-term. Or, I tune in to “yesteryear,” to look at events and actions of the past for meaning in today’s world.  As historian-philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952) observed a century ago in “Life of Reason,” those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

I do a lot of writing on the present and past and often in looking into the future.  (No, not making any crystal ball claims.) This blog (an on-line log or “old-fashioned” journal) looks at things going on in our society that present signals worth detecting, dots worth connecting, boxes to think outside of…and so on.  These are my personal views, not representative of anything more than my own thinking and writing (which helps me in my thinking).

I’m fascinated by things that we cheer and then (later) jeer…or things that we see or perhaps don’t see because they are hiding in plain sight.  (I am a big fan of author Malcolm Gladwell, of “The Tipping Point” and Thomas Friedman of “Hot, Flat and Crowded.”  I learned from reading the works of Alvin & Heidi Toffler and Peter Drucker, among many wise authors.)

Case in point on thinking backward and forward and connecting dots:  In October 1929, investors large and small in the the U.S. stock market suffered cataclysmic losses — too much speculation and junk on sale.  Hundreds of banks failed.  The “Great Depression” pushed millions of families from new middle class prosperity to poverty. In response, the Congress passed the “Banking Act of 1933,” which prohibited commercial banks from being connected to brokerage firms — this was “Glass-Steagall,” named for sponsors Senator Carter Glass and Representative Henry Steagall. (Both Democrats in a Democratically-controlled Congress with a new Democrat in the White House – President Franklin Roosevelt.)  The measure was supposed to deter speculation — and was under attack from then on by bankers and “free market” advocates.

Move forward to 1998 — Citigroup is formed, combining the venerable First National City Bank, Traveler’s Insurance, Primerica, and Salomon Smith Barney (yes, a brokerage).  Chairman Sandy Weill’s dream of a “super” bank is realized – and Glass-Steagall directly challenged.  Then – 1999 – Senator Phil Gramm, with Representatives Jim Leach and Thomas Bliley get the law named for them passed and “banking reform” was promised.  (All were Republicans).  President Bill Clinton signs this into law — with Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and key advisor Larry Summers at his side. (Rubin will depart for Citigroup as vice chair; Summers will later become Treasury head.)

The lines between brokerage / investment banking / commercial banking quickly blur.  Bank of America absorbs Merrill Lynch.  Other large banks follow the example. What’s ahead?  For one (important) thing – the financial crisis of 2007-2008, with the US Treasury pouring hundreds of millions’ of taxpayer dollars into “big bank bailouts.”  (Remember “TARP?” Those who don’t are ignoring history, Professor Santayana might observe.)

The debate about Glass-Steagall protections going away and being a factor in the crisis a decade later is highly debated, pro and con, and in the end the matter is not so simple. Anyway, we can connect the dots…we now have “G-S Lite,” in the form of the Volcker Rule, named for former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, who in 1979 helped to end ruinous inflation with his tough and courageous actions.  Let’s see how things work out with this “lite” rule in place.  The rule is part of the package of the Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2008. (Sponsors were Senator Chris Dodd and Representative Barney Frank.  Both Democrats.  Both gone from Congress.)  Is there a pattern here? Dunno – yet!  What’s ahead for G-S Lite? Dunno – yet!

As for predicting the future — of course, that was easy — the American Banking Association has now filed suit to challenges the legality of the Volcker Rule.  Is this 1933…1986…1998…2008?  Doesn’t matter — some of the challenges posed are consistent.  Do Stay Tuned to our banking system!  And calls for more regulation and less regulation and oversight.  So that’s an example of tuning in to yesteryear and today and peering into the future as events unfold.

Your feedback on my commentaries and ramblings are welcome.  Thank you for tuning in today — I will try not to disappoint.

Personal note:  I’ve been a writer for four decades now, working in various media including newspapers, magazines, newsletters, books, and a wide range of authorship for clients.  I often am surprised myself when I look back and something I’ve written shows what was ahead, often hiding in plain sight.  The life of the writer can be a high-wire act.  Think about it – when we “push” the words out…we are putting our work in the public eye.  Readers may like what you have to say…or hate what it.  But as writers we seem to be compelled to proceed anyway.  Following the compulsion, I am staying tuned…and thinking and writing. – Hank Boerner