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Peter Drucker, Masatoshi Ito, and In-N-Out Burger

Joseph Lee
Joseph Lee

November 19th is management pioneer (now deceased) Peter Drucker’s 100th birthday. To celebrate the life and teachings of this remarkable man, the Drucker Institute hosted a weeklong event, Drucker Week, featuring some of the most respected business academicians (a paradox?) of the world at Claremont University.

Ken Blanchard (author of The One-Minute Manager and Know Can Do!) was there, along with Warren Bennis (author of Judgment), Stephen Covey (author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), Charles Handy (author of The Gods of Management and Myself and Other More Important Matters, Frances Hesselbein (co-editor of the Drucker Foundation’s three-volume Future Series and Leading Beyond the Walls, and Jim Collins (author of Good to Great)—real heavyweights.

Here is a short account of my experiences attending this notable event:

On Tuesday, November 4th, Ken, Warren, and Charles entertained a downtown Los Angeles crowd at Club Nokia. Ken spoke of the need for the servant leader—someone willing to put himself at the bottom of the organization chart (an upside down pyramid)—to support those closest to the customers. After all, as Peter Drucker said, the only purpose of a business is to create a customer.

Drucker WeekCharles Handy told the audience that this opportunity to talk about Peter Drucker was a great chance for him to learn—for what better way is there to learn than to teach another person what you know? He also challenged the MBA programs around the country to offer classes that will more properly mirror the demands of the business world.

Warren Bennis remarked about the need for leaders to show respect, the starting point for all forms of communication. All three speakers hit home on themes that Drucker had promoted—the customer, the importance of the human element, and the social purpose of any organization.

On Saturday, November 9th, Jim Collins was the featured speaker. Powerful and eloquent, Jim walked us through his thoughts on Peter Drucker and pointed out that for Peter, his next book was always going to be the best; at age 65 he was only a third of the way through the 39 books that he would ultimately write. He urged students to form their own “board of mentors” who would advise them throughout their careers. Widely viewed as the “Drucker of the 21st Century,” Jim was at times teacher, then philosopher, but perhaps most importantly, a master communicator.

Prominent Japanese businessman Masatoshi Ito had a friendship with Peter Drucker that lasted decades and culminated in the naming of The Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management at Claremont University. I’ve known Mr. Ito for ten years and had the opportunity to have lunch with him on Saturday. Originally, we had planned a quiet lunch to include his son, Yasuhisa, in Claremont. However, I was told of a change in venue on the day of the event:

“Mr. Ito wants to have In-N-Out Burger.”

And so, we ended up at the storied West Coast fast-food chain.

Mr. Ito is one of the most respected business leaders in Japan.  He is 85. His curiosity for knowledge, his desire to learn, and his eagerness to experience everything first hand—these are the traits of leadership that have kept him sharp. Upon arrival, he walked in, looked up at the menu and asked, “What is the best selling item on the menu?” (The Number 1—a Double-double with soft drink and fries, according to the guy behind the counter).

We spent the next 45 minutes talking about the speakers, what they represented, about society, and about the future of the US and Japan. We talked about Covey, about Collins, about Rick Warren (founder and senior pastor of the megachurch, Saddleback Ranch), and about Blanchard. We talked about In-N-Out Burger and its business model. He asked probing questions. And then he listened.

Drucker Week was a special week. We heard Drucker’s words through great speakers such as Collins, Blanchard, Covey, Handy, etc. But for me, the final word I heard from Mr. Ito would be the one that remains in my memory.

“Oishii…”   (Translation: Yummy hamburger)

Joseph Lee is an adjunct professor at the Graziadio School of Business and Management and Peter Drucker & Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management, where he teaches a course on management consulting. Read his blog at

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Author of the article
Joseph Lee, Adjunct Professor
Joseph Lee, Adjunct Professor
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