The Lords of Strategy: The Secret Intellectual History of the New Corporate World

In what amounts to a vigorous defense of management consultants, Kiechel explains how business became an intellectual endeavor over the last half century, maturing from commonsense practice to theory-driven discipline, and how ideas now underpin the way corporations function today. “What companies didn’t have before the strategy revolution,” he writes, “was a way of systematically putting together all the elements that determined their corporate fate.”

In the same way that Peter Drucker “invented” management in the 1940s, consultants invented corporate strategy as “the first comprehensive paradigm that pulled together all the elements most vital for a company to take into account if it is to compete, win, and survive.” Kiechel offers a history of the ideas that coalesced into “strategy” and of the people and organizations that struggled to put them into practice; helpfully, he puts particular scholars and theorists in context—for instance, Henry Mintzberg’s organizational learning versus Michael Porter’s positioning.

Kiechel, a veteran of Fortune and Harvard Business Publishing, writes clearly and brightly, but The Lords of Strategy isn’t all that easy a read, perhaps due to the author’s broad scope and extensive information-gathering—for each concept and case study, he brings together its history, practitioners, applications, and importance, in prose driven by personalities, dialogue, and anecdotes. The book’s structure feels looser than perhaps intended, and readers hoping to skim may find themselves occasionally at sea while negotiating market segmentation, the experience curve, the growth-share matrix, reengineering, core competencies, and the five-forces framework. But Kiechel has done a real service—and not only for McKinsey and BCG—in bringing his subject to life. The book serves as a primer as well as a history, and as such almost any executive or B-school student would do well to pick it up. —Matthew Budman [The Conference Board Review]

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