Drucker is my consultant

How does it feel to have Drucker as your consultant? Founder of Peter F. Drucker Academy Mr Shao Ming Lo is honored to having Drukcer as his business consultant. Whenever they met, Drucker would raise questions to Shao in a Socratic way, in order to lead him to dig out the “real question” that is hidden behind the surface.  From Drucker’s point of view, to ask “the right question” and to find out “the real question”, is far more important than simply finding the solution to the question.

 

In the summer of 1999, I made a visit to Mr Drucker, with the plan of establishing a management education institute which serves the entrepreneurs and management executives in China. My goal drew Drucker’s attention, and he promised to be my consultant during his lifetime, for free. Since then, every year I would visit him at his home in Claremont, California until he passed away in 2005.

 

I made a commitment to Drucker that I would consolidate my business development progress during the period in between our meetings, into a 5-page report which had to be sent to him in advance of the next meeting.

 

The report covered on topics of recent market change in business environment, new opportunities and new challenges that sprang up in business, as well as the doubts on my mind. Every time I took the seat in his living room, I saw the report laid out on the coffee table, with remarks and comments made by Drucker.

 

Drucker always started our meeting by checking with me whether he understood the report right. And then he began with answering all questions raised in the report, sometimes he pointed out that certain questions were not real questions, but the façade created by the question. And he guided me through finding out the root of the question. He always asked me if I had any other questions whenever he finished his talk. If I said I had no more questions, he would say, “then let me ask you a few questions.” His questions always took me by surprise, but were very intriguing at the same time.

 

Shortly after I established this new institute, a professor from a famous business school suggested me to take the Elite education path, aiming at cultivating talents for big companies in order to charge higher tuitions. She even designed an oversea study tour plan, and pursued for the position of school head. Out of respect for the fame of her school and her status as a professor, I almost accepted her proposal; nevertheless, I sent her proposal and resume to Drucker for advice before making the final decision. When Drucker and I met, he suggested that this lady was outstanding and had come forward with an interesting proposal; however, Drucker didn’t buy into her proposal, nor found her the appropriate candidate for the position of school head.

 

He said, “ China needs big companies, as well as talents to lead them. However, China is same as other countries, 90% of the organizations are SMEs and local. This professor wants to create another Harvard Business School for you, but that’s not what you want. You goal is to create a management culture that emphasizes on performance. Regardless of being a leading power, China does not have enough amounts of highly educated citizens. However, China has a huge number of capable people, who survived under the most critical environment and succeeded. Although they are poor educated, neither smart nor distinguished; they acquired the skills of doing business discreetly. There are millions of this kind of people in China, who lead the SMEs and local organizations in China, they are going to build a prosperous China. Only these people, are your potential students, they are undiscovered resources, unrefined materials, they have strong adaptive ability, they are eager to learn. Thus, don’t let any one change your direction.”

 

This advice made me reflect on my intention of establishing the management institute, and the three fundamental questions, “ what is our business? Who are our customers? What are customer's values?” Finally, Drucker helped me to stay away from making a wrong decision.

 

Our institute is classified as “Non-Degree Higher Education Organization”; hence, we are not qualified to issue degrees to our students. Nevertheless, majority of our students wish to attain master degree through our institute. In 2003, an American College was willing to join hands with us to co-organize a MBA program in China. They even agreed with my request of letting us to design and host half of the classes, while students are certified by this American college upon completion of the program.

Author: Shao Ming Lo

              Founder of Peter F. Drucker Academy

              Chairman of Bright China Group

 

The article is excerpted from Business Review

I was glad for having this opportunity, therefore, I rushed into discussion of cooperation details with the college.

Once Drucker got informed with this business plan, he asked me, “Why do you need them? What kind of assistance provided by the college do you expect? Can they meet your expectation?” I answered “yes” to all these questions of Drucker affirmatively. But Drucker neglected my answers and kept on asking, “ Why do they need you? Can you satisfy them? What can you contribute to the success of the project? Do they agree with your point of view?”

 

However, this time I was not certain with the answer “yes”. Was the college trying to break into the market of China through me? Do they really see eyes to eyes with our course planning? Are they simply trying to recruit students through us? Or all of above are the reasons for them to join hands with us?

I admitted that all questions of Drucker’s were good and sharp; nevertheless, I was eager to cooperate with the college, and Drucker failed to stop me this time. Three years later, by the graduation of the second MBA class, this American college has gained fame in China and decided to terminate the contract with us. They joined hands with another Chinese public university. Learning from this failure, since then I would go through all of the above questions raised by Drucker, every time when I plan to join hands with other organizations.  Drucker’s questions are concerned about whether both parties share same values and similar goals.

 

I was an aggressive person who always intended to do things as much as possible within a short period of time. After Drucker met me for the first time, he soon recognized this weakness of mine. Until one day when we met again, as soon as I sat down, he said,”

My friend, you look tired and exhausted, you always started different sorts of things at the same time, you can achieve everything with good results; however, none of them are finished outstandingly.  How long has it been since you last vacation with your wife? You will burn out if you keep on like this, and your wife will get mad at you as well.”

 

Before we ended our meeting that day, Drucker asked me what would be my most important task when I went back to China? I told him I would spend a week in southern China, pay visit to 10 of the companies that had joined our classes, to listen to their comments on our courses. He let me write down the names of these 10 companies and asked, “ What will you do if you receive an urgent call once you get off the plane, and need to compress the 10-day trip into 4-day?” I said I could only visit fewer companies. Then, he asked me to wipe out the relatively less important clients. But as soon as I finished what he asked me to do, he asked me again, if I was informed to squeeze the 4-day trip into 2-day, and had to make sure I was able to spend a reasonable time span with all clients, within such short time, who would you pay the visit? This game may only takes a few minutes, but it did inspire me to rethink, how could I simplify and minimize the things that are needed to be done, and how could I be focused on some of the most quintessential tasks, while left enough quality time for each important task?

 

Above are a few intriguing stories happened during the period of Drucker being my consultant, and they showed how Drucker led me to discover the “real questions” behind the façade, through Socratic way of questioning. Sometimes Drucker would get to the core of the matter with direct and sharp tongue. Sometimes he would induce the listener to contemplate on the matter, and get to the “real questions” in the end. For instance, in the first story I shared in this article, Drucker believed that the act of finding the “real problem” through asking “the right questions”, is far more important than bringing forth the solution to the question.  If you are set to solve type A question, while bring forth the solutions for type B question, you are destined to lead the wrong way. Thanks to the wisdom and patience of Mr Drucker, until now Drucker Academy has trained up more than 10,000 managers in China each year over the course of 17-year development.

 

 

Although Mr Drucker is no longer with us, I still remember by heart the questions he asked me every time when our meeting came to an end, “Is everything I say to you today important to you? “ No doubt, all of his sharing is useful, regardless of my limitation to accept and understand at the time.