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Many businesses tend to take consultants for granted, while others get frustrated at the outsiders who come into their companies and suggest improvements. But what would today's business environment be like without the advent of strategy consulting? The industry came into its modern form 50 years ago, when four entrepreneurial figures stepped up to the plate to share their ideas: Bruce Henderson, founder of The Boston Consulting Group, Bill Bain, founder of Bain & Co., Fred Gluck one of the original managing directors at McKinsey, and Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter.
A new book, The Lords of Strategy: The Secret Intellectual History of the New Corporate World outlines these figures and their revolutionary ideas from the 1960s that helped establish the modern management consulting industry. The author, Walter Kiechel III, is a Harvard College, Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School alum, and was the managing editor at Fortune--so it's perhaps not surprising that the book also makes the argument that the industry would not be where it is today without the contributions of HBS and its alumni and faculty.
Kiechel argues that before the advent of strategy consulting, companies didn't have a way of synthesizing all the elements that would affect their company: costs, the market (customers) and competitors. Strategy consulting arose from people applying sharper analytics to their processes, and paying more attention to the competition—a combination that led them to seek out new ways of functioning more efficiently to maintain the upper hand in their respective markets. As George Stalk, a leader at BCG and, of course, a HBS grad, stated in the late 1990s, "The goal is to identify and develop the hard-to-imitate organizational capabilities that distinguish a company from its competitors."
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