March 2009
AMCF Annual Meeting 2008 in New York
Interview : Henry Mintzberg

Professor at McGill University
Sherbrooke, Montreal, Canada

Henry Mintzberg, you have spent much of your time and a large part of your life making research on management and focusing on organizations. You published numerous books on those topics.  « The Structuring of Organizations » is very well known in France and since its first publication in French in 1981 it has become a reference text book in management schools. Does it mean that you consider that organizations would be central to value creation and man made wealth ?

Henry Mintzberg :  I would not say that. I think it is a contributing factor, but it comes from peoples energy, it comes from culture, it comes from  leadership.  I think it is a mix of all those things, but organization is a big issue and we dont understand it very well. So we tend to make a lot of mistakes by creating all organizations the same... New techniques come along, evry body has to adapt.

During the AMCF gala diner you talked in your keynotes address on Leaders and Managers and stressed on their big difference, and you seemed somehow to favour Management over Leadership. May we develop this topic for our readers ?

Henry Mintzberg :  I think it was a big mistake to separate leadership from management, and, by the way Peter Drucker separated managers from administrators and he had exactly the same idea in mind. And what we are getting as a consequence are leaders that  are not managers. They don’t know what’s going on... That’s the mortgage crisis : you get people running big companies who don't know what’s going on in their companies. So we need a lot more management and need to combine  it with leadership and not separate them...

Again refering to your speach at the AMCF gala diner, you told us about 3 legs, let say 3 ways to deliver management consulting to companies : something sounding like gerontology,  education and obstretrics... Could you comment ?

Henry Mintzberg :  There is geriatric consulting, pediatric consulting and obstretric consulting. Well, geriatric consulting is about keeping old sick companies alive. It’s palliation. That’s where the money is and that’s where the problems are, and so a lot of consulting pratice is about that. ButI dont think it is as functional for society as pediatric consulting, which is about helping young new companies grow and become more successfull . And obstretric consulting is about helping give birth to new interesting companies in the first place.

Does it mean that in the few coming months, with this crisis, we are going to inject large amounts of money in dying companies ?

Henry Mintzberg :  Exactly. We have known for years that a lot of the employment has been created by middle sized and small companies but not by big companies. Look at the irony of funding these big automobile companies. It’s a wonderfull irony, we are going to save the economy by having big companies lay off more workers!

Which remark brings us to the very last point of your speach which was about HR and exactly the use of the word « Human Resources ». Yesterday you said we should never talk about human resources because all resources are « disposable ». Is that exactly what you ment ?

Henry Mintzberg :  A resource is a thing. I am a human being. I am not a human resource. And I think that kind of vocabulary is demeaning. Calling them human capital or human assets is almost worse. The downsizing, the mass firings became common as that vocabulary became used. If people are resources then you can fire them quite casualy. Some (companies) do have their back against the wall but in many many cases they just were not as profitable as the analysts wished.

If you had some very last words to tell our readers about downsizings and lay offs that probably some of them will have to manage in the near future, if they become unavoidable, what those words would be ?

Henry Mintzberg :  Look, the companies that are going bankrupt have to do something very drastic, I can’t argue with that. But its just too easy to engage in firing. Much of lay offs are nervous symptoms of a very sick management culture.

Finaly Henry Mintzberg you unveiled that you were currently writing a new book that should be published soon, in English as well as in French. Might we know a little bit about this work?

Henry Mintzberg :  It's called Managing and it revisits the sub parts of from my first books It's back to basics.

Henry Mintzberg, Thank you very much for those comments.

Words collected by Bertrand Villeret
Editor in chief

French version :

To know more :

Whoswoo :

Henry Mintzberg

Images :
Copyright B. Villeret, Quantorg 2008

Copyright Quantorg  2009
pour ConsultingNewsLine
All rights reserved
Reproduction interdite

Henry Mintzberg