Dr Peter Starbuck
Report from Vienna, November 2009 - Page 2


Management conferences are not a new idea but their relative success is variable as the following examples will illustrate. According to Drucker; “THE FIRST MANAGEMENT conference we know of was called in 1882 by The German Post Office. The topic – - and only chief executive officers were invited – - was how not to be afraid of the telephone. Nobody showed up. The invitees were insulted. The idea that they should use telephones was unthinkable. The telephone was for underlings”. (Peter Drucker: August 25, 1994, Forbes)

With the end of World War 1 international management conferences were becoming a regular occurrence at least in America and Europe including one Prague in 1926 at the invitation of the country’s President Tomas Garrigue Masaryk. This conference was more successful than the German Post Office as the delegates did attend but the event was not without drama.

What we know is that probably the most colourful, and somewhat rare husband, and wife team in management, Frank Bunker Gilbreth (1868-1926)1 and his wife Lillian Evelyn Möller Gilbreth (1878-1972) were involved indirectly, and directly. Frank who was associated with Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915) as one of the founders of Scientific Management had set out for Prague. While telephoning his wife from Grand Central Station in New York to tell her that his journey was going to plan, he had a heart attack, and died. Resourceful as ever, Lillian organised care for eleven of their twelve surviving children, and attended the Prague conference in her husband’s stead.

What was described as the biggest management conference ever was reported in ‘The Manager’ November 1963. The author of the report, where 3,000 managers convened in New York, was Harry Ward, who claimed to have been attending such gatherings for over forty years.

The hosts of the participants from seventy countries were the Council for International Progress in Management (CIOS) who titled the conference ‘Human Progress Through Better Management’. (November 1963, The Manager)

For Henry Ward, the event was not a happy one. The fact that he anticipated better hospitality may been tempered by the currency restrictions at the time on British Nationals travelling abroad who were allowed to take only £50 Sterling on each journey. He records that “tours both before and after the Congress were drastically curtailed which upset the arrangements for those who had travelled thousands of miles”.

The list of the names of those attending omitted many who had forwarded subscriptions months before, and it was believed that it would be several months before it will be known who was present

Ward continued that “everyone notices the things that go wrong”. The banquet, which was attended by two thousand one hundred guests, had no national flags, or national anthems, tables were half empty or empty. Although it had been announced that no dinner jackets were necessary on arrival the menu’s announced that ‘des smoking on des complets foncés’ (dinner or dark suits). Questioned is why the notice was in French. That the dinner was unduly expensive at $10 with no alcohol was noted internationally.

Also criticised was that the two hundred papers presented at seventeen simultaneous sessions did not afford the correct appreciation for the efforts made. A personal appearance by President Kennedy transpired to be a five minute film.

Ward’s hope for the future was that the next CIOS event in Rotterdam 1966 would be as well managed as the Australian event of 1960.

Why this report has any relevance to Drucker, Vienna 2009, is that in Ward’s report there are two positives. The friendliness and hospitality of the hosts who personally accommodated the guests was noted. Of the internationally ranked contributors, Drucker receives a complimentary mention as “including a paper by the well-known Dr Peter Drucker”.

The following advice from Drucker would have been relevant to the organiser of the New York event:

On 2 April 1964 (The Manager, May 1964) it was reported that Drucker addressed a British Institute of Management conference of eight hundred senior British managers in two sessions. The morning session was ‘The Effective Business’ followed by ‘The Effective Executive’, where he told the delegates that their priority as managers was “effectiveness (which) was doing the right things as opposed to doing things right”, which is efficiency.

The New York event is mentioned to draw attention to the difference in the organisation of the Vienna Forum, which was breathtakingly the epitome of management organisation at its best. That the forum was also the first such event adds to the credit of the organisers Dr Richard, his wife Dr Ilse Straub, and their dedicated team.

1 Frank Gilbreth devised motion study as an application to remove unnecessary movement in work to eliminate fatigue. Lillian was the first lady of management. When the original members of Scientific Management decided to make an award to her for his contribution; in the 1910s she had to receive her medal in a hotel across the road from where the society was meeting, as women were not admitted to the society’s meetings. Her thesis, which was published as the first management book to use psychology in its title was only accepted by the publishers after her husband advised her to submit it using only her initials as he assumed that because of the total absence of women writers on management the publishers would think she was a man. The submission was accepted for Mr Gilbreth.