Today any company worth the name has a strategy. How else to decide what the organization wants to be, and where to compete? But this hasn’t always been so. In fact corporate strategy is a fairly recent invention. Only in the 1960s did a new breed of “business intellectuals”—though they never would have called themselves that—begin to invent the frameworks for pulling together what a company needed to know about its costs, customers, and competitors.
The Lords of Strategy tells the story of these quirky, rebellious men and women, of the key ideas they pioneered, and the organizations they served (and in some cases created.) You’ll get to know
- Bruce Henderson. He was fired from every job he ever held—and bragged about it—until he founded the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in 1963. On his death, the Financial Times would say of him: “Few people have had as much impact on international business in the second half of the 20th Century.” Have you ever heard of Bruce Henderson?
- Bill Bain. With no MBA, indeed no particular background in business, he became Henderson’s best salesman and alter ego. Then, frustrated by BCG’s failure to take his concepts of strategy seriously, he left to found his own firm, Bain & Co. It grew wildly through the Seventies and Eighties, then skittered close to bankruptcy before re-inventing itself. Along the way Bain helped invent Greater Taylorism, the sharp-penciled means by which companies crawl over every aspect of their own operations and their competitors’ looking for an edge.
- Fred Gluck. A poor kid from a tough Brooklyn neighborhood he became, first, a rocket scientist, then the missionary/visionary who installed strategy at McKinsey, probably the world’s most white-shoe consulting firm. Turning the Firm, as its denizens call it, into a knowledge factory eventually won him the top job there.
- Michael Porter, and aeronautical engineer and NCAA champion golfer, he up-ended Harvard’s notion of strategy, fought off faculty elders who sought to squelch his career, and eventually earned an exalted place as the most famous business-school professor in the world. Also the leading academic expert on strategy, co-founder of his own consulting outfit, and—if the universe were fair—a contender for the Nobel Prize.
You’ll also encounter the people who argued for the human side of the equation, intellectual sparkplugs such as Tom Peters and Bob Waterman who for writing In Search of Excellence were more or less expelled from the Garden of McKinsey. The two and those who followed in their intellectual tracks would tirelessly make the case that there had to be more to strategy than just numbers. But the humanists could never quite come up with a unifying paradigm—pardon the expression—to rival strategy’s.
In its final chapters The Lords of Strategy brings the history up to the moment, through ideas like time-based competition and core competency all the way to still-under-construction concepts of strategy as, ultimately—and paradoxically, given the prior neglect—based on people and their skills. The book ends with a look over the horizon, toward strategy’s future.