November 22, 1999
These are amazing times. People are definitely living longer, and a couple of individuals with the most brilliant minds of the 20th century are still productive and contributing intellectual riches to mankind long after others would have chosen retirement. One is 90 years young, and the other is 91.
Peter Drucker, for instance, just celebrated his 90th birthday. The other gentleman is Michael DeBakey, M.D., the famed heart surgeon who revolutionized heart surgery and is a member of the Health Care Hall of Fame. The wonderful thing for me is that I've spent some time with both individuals. In fact, a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of having dinner with DeBakey at the American Institute of Architects' Academy of Architecture for Health design awards presentation in Houston. At the event he was feted for his incredible contributions to healthcare, and a special award was named in his honor.
My encounter with Peter Drucker took place in Claremont, Calif., several years ago. He was a professor in residence at the Claremont College business school. I had been asked to moderate a healthcare CEO conference sponsored by Baxter and ServiceMaster. It was an unexpected honor, and I looked forward to meeting a man who had been one of my heroes for years. The night before the opening of the seminar there was a get-acquainted dinner, but Drucker didn't appear. So the next day when I introduced him to the gathering of about 75 CEOs, I hadn't had an opportunity to talk to him and ask what he wanted me to say. When it came time for him to speak to the CEOs I simply said: "This man needs no introduction. He is an icon and legend in his own time, Peter Drucker." Well into his 80s, he briskly strode to the front of the room and then delivered one of the most riveting monologues I've ever heard. The audience was spellbound.
According to an article in the Nov. 17 New York Times, Drucker hasn't slowed much. Over the course of his career he has written some 31 books. His latest work is titled Management Challenges for the 21st Century (HarperBusiness). The Times article takes a close look at Drucker's view of the corporate mind-set: "For his part, The Man Who Invented Corporate Society (a biographer's apt label) disdains a corporate order that is in thrall to stock prices and that rewards its chief executives as though they were power forwards. `Earnings per share' does not exist in Peter Drucker's vocabulary. The religion of shareholder supremacy has him shaking his head." Then there's a quote from Drucker: "That's right, I am not very happy with the unbalanced emphasis on stock price and market cap and short-term earnings. The most critical management job is to balance short term and long term. In the long term, today's one-sided emphasis is deleterious and dangerous."
The interview with Drucker makes it clear he believes customers and highly skilled employees are at least as precious as investors. Therefore, according to the article, increasingly, as pension beneficiaries, owners of stock options or mutual fund investors, they are one and the same. Learning to balance these divergent but shared interests is "the challenge of the next 10 years," Drucker says.
DeBakey is in the same league. He's still going 100 mph. Back in 1964 he performed the first successful coronary bypass surgery, a procedure that has become almost routine for millions of Americans. When Russian President Boris Yeltsin was having heart problems a few years ago, DeBakey was brought in as a consultant. And ever since the '60s DeBakey has had a hand in training just about every vascular surgeon in this country.
Drucker and DeBakey personify the words "total dedication."
Age really is relative,
Charles S. Lauer