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Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010

Novel based on late management guru Drucker resonates to the top

The Associated Press

Five years after his death, management guru Peter Drucker has shot to newfound fame — as one of Japan's biggest pop culture icons of 2010.

News photo
In the dugout: Natsumi Iwasaki, author of the best-selling book "What if the Female Manager of a High School Baseball Team Read Drucker's `Management'?" is interviewed in his Tokyo office Dec. 14. AP PHOTO

Yes, pop culture.

Revered as the father of modern management, Drucker's ideas influenced some of the most powerful corporate leaders of the 20th century: Intel's Andy Grove, GE's Jack Welch and Toyota's Shoichiro Toyoda.

Now he is the star of Japan's best-selling book of the year, a novel with an unwieldy title: "What if the Female Manager of a High School Baseball Team Read Drucker's 'Management'?"

The book has sold more than 2 million copies since it debuted last December. The manga version launched last week and an "anime" TV series starts in March. There's also a live-action movie on the way.

Its success is in large part due to author Natsumi Iwasaki's creative decision to write about high school baseball, a national obsession. Iwasaki says the setting serves as the perfect vehicle to introduce Drucker's ideas to ordinary Japanese at a time when the country is grasping for direction.

Japan's once-heralded economy was eclipsed this year by China as No. 2 in the world. Growth is sluggish, and unemployment remains high. There's a sense that the country has lost its confidence.

"People are starting to realize they can't depend on politicians for change. We have to create change ourselves," Iwasaki said.

"But Japanese people had never practiced management. They didn't know what do to. They needed an intermediary to explain things," he added.

That intermediary is Minami Kawashima, a teenager unexpectedly tapped to assist her high school baseball team. The role isn't lofty, but her goal is to qualify for the national championship tournament.

Needing guidance to deal with her unmotivated team, she gains inspiration in "Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices." Absorbing one of Drucker's most famous lessons, she and her team start by focusing on their "customers," the parents, classmates and community that support them. With that, the team embarks on a journey out of mediocrity.

Hideki Yamawaki, a professor at the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management in Claremont, Calif., says the book has resonated because it reminds people of the strengths that Japan can use to revive the country.

"Almost everybody feels like Japan has really declined," said Yamawaki, who knew Drucker personally.

Japan today tends to focus on the negative, on what went wrong over the last 20 years, he said. But the book, or rather Drucker, compels individuals to maximize strengths and talents.

"I hope this book triggers a new way of looking at Japan, and I hope that leads to a real revitalization of the economy and society," Yamawaki said.

Drucker might have hoped so as well. The Vienna-born author, consultant and teacher had a decades-long love affair with Japan. He initially visited the country to indulge his passion for Japanese art but ultimately counseled many Japanese business leaders.

His books always sold particularly well in Japan, and Iwasaki's novel has further fueled interest in Drucker's original works. Publisher Diamond Inc. says it has sold more than 450,000 copies of "Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices" this year, compared with about 116,000 over the previous eight years.

The Drucker Workshop — a Japan-based group of Drucker enthusiasts who study and spread his ideas — added 200 members this year alone, bringing their total to 700, said director Chuck Ueno. Magazines and newspapers throughout the year have chronicled how schools and offices around the country are incorporating Drucker's techniques.

For Iwasaki, 42, his book is a labor of love that began with his own unlikely encounter with Drucker. He was playing a video game — "Final Fantasy XII" — and couldn't figure out a way to build a team effective enough to defeat certain monsters. In a blog, another player mentioned Drucker.

So like Minami, he began reading. Drucker's ideas were transformative, he says. They moved him to tears.

"This isn't something that's taught in Japanese schools," said Iwasaki, a producer and a teacher of a comedy class by day. "It makes a big difference just to have that knowledge that there is something out there called management. Once you have that, you can figure out how to handle a situation."

He blogged about it, which led to a publishing deal, which led to his literary home run. The publisher is negotiating to translate the book into other languages, including English.

Iwasaki's next book is also about baseball, but darker. The former high school pitcher wrote it more than a decade ago along with some other novels, all of which were rejected at the time.

A big fan of Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Iwasaki says it's a tragedy-filled story of 10 years of a high school baseball team, "kind of like 'One Hundred Years of Solitude.' "

Thanks to Drucker, "I was able to triumph over those who ridiculed my writing 13 years ago," he said.

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