The Top 50 Management Thinkers

Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter

Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter

It wasn’t the “Thrilla in Manila,” but a bout between two Harvard heavyweights grabbed headlines this summer nonetheless. In one corner, you had Clayton Christensen, the dean of disruption, who slammed HBX for being conventional and vulnerable. Across the ring, he faced off with Michael Porter, the father of the five forces, who stressed a steady strategy over Christensen’s Darwinian upheaval. In the end, the media scored their New York Times dust up as a draw, with neither landing a Ronda Rousey right or a Shawn Michaels superkick.

But ask the voters in the 2015 Thinkers50 Ranking and you’ll find a clear winner.

MICHAEL PORTER CLIMBS TO TOP AFTER 42 YEARS AT HARVARD

At November’s awards ceremony, Porter was named the most influential living management thinker, topping Christensen who ranked as the top thinker in the 2013 and 2011 biennial rankings. Call it a changing of the guard, as Christensen’s theories have come under attack as upstart disruptors have increasingly floundered after their case studies has been written. However, you won’t find Porter taking any smug satisfaction in topping his rival. “I am so honored to lead the Thinkers50 ranking this year,” a humble Porter shared in his November 9th acceptance speech at London’s Draper Hall. “I am in wonderful company with the likes of Peter Drucker, CK Prahalad and Clay Christensen.”

Harvard Business School's Clayton Christensen

Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen

For Porter, who was also ranked as the top thinker in 2005, his research is no esoteric exercise limited to the ivory tower. Instead, it is a means to tackle the big challenges plaguing society. “Management thinking and a new conception of how corporations relate to society is one of the most powerful tools we have in addressing society’s pressing challenges,” he added during the Top 50 black tie awards ceremony.  “Through creating Shared Value – which Mark Kramer and I have written about – I think we can create solutions to problems like healthcare, nutrition, the environment education, and housing. Ideas truly do change the world, and management thinking unlocks value in every field, not just business.”

RANKINGS BASED ON VOTES – AND LEADER OPINION

You might think that intellectuals would chafe at having their work ranked. Guess again. The Thinkers50 has instead evolved into the “Oscars of Management Thinking.” Launched in 2001, the Thinkers50 has emerged as the most definitive ranking of global management thinkers. Developed by Stuart Crainer, a former teacher at IE Business School and Oxford University, and Des Dearlove, a former London Times columnist who co-edited the Financial Times Handbook of Management, the ranking is open to anyone and based on a 10-point criteria. The first five criteria focuses on each business thinker’s production over the past two years, including idea relevance and presentation, research rigor, international outlook, and the accessibility and dissemination of ideas. The remaining five criteria focus on the thinkers’ contributions over the previous twenty years in areas such as the originality, impact, and practicality of their ideas, along with their business sense and power to inspire. However, this is no popularity contest, with Crainer and Dearlove evaluating candidates with help from academics and practitioners such as Adi Ignatius, editor-in-chief of the Harvard Business Review.

Voting is held from January to September of the year that the ranking takes place. Initially, the rankings featured luminaries such as Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, Jeff Bezos, and Bill Gates. Since then, Crainer and Dearlove have tightened their criteria to target thought leaders with a “clearly articulated theory or philosophy of Management, usually in the form of the book.” This year, over 20,000 people nominated a favorite thinker, with another 1,200 voters selecting thinkers for specific achievement awards.

INSEAD AND LONDON BUSINESS SCHOOL CLOSING IN ON HARVARD

INSEAD's Herminia Ibarra

INSEAD’s Herminia Ibarra

When it comes to thought leadership in management, Harvard Business School remains ground zero. Already home to U.S. News’ highest-ranked management program – not to mention the Harvard Business Review – Harvard placed three faculty members – Porter, Christensen, and Linda Hill – in the top six. HBS also boasts four other faculty members — Amy Edmondson, Teresa Amabile, John Kotter (Emeritus), and Amy Cuddy – in the Top 50. And that doesn’t even include Harvard stalwarts like Nitin Hohria, Rakesh Khurana, and Rosabeth Moss Kanter who dropped out of this year’s ranking.

However, Harvard’s dominance isn’t as pronounced at second glance. INSEAD notched three faculty members in Top 10 –W. Chan Kim, Renee Mauborgne, and Herminia Ibarra – along with a fourth (Morten T. Hansen) in the top fifty. The University of Toronto Rotman School of Management also claimed two spots in the top ten (Don Tapscott and Roger Martin), with futurist Richard Florida holding down the 14th spot. Otherwise, faculty members from six members also made the Top 20. They include Richard D’Aveni and Vijay Govindarajan (Dartmouth Tuck), Rita McGrath (Columbia), Yves Pigneur (University of Lausanne), Jeffrey Pfeffer (Stanford), and Pankaj Ghemawat (NYU Stern and IESE).

Below the Top 20, the London Business School claims five professors who are ranked in the Top 50: Gary Hamel, Lynda Gratton, Tammy Erickson, Nimalya Kumar, and Julian Birinshaw. Two Wharton “rock star” professors, Adam Grant and Stewart Friedman, also made the cut. In addition, MIT can claim four members in the Top 50, including Erik Brynjolfsson, Andrew McAfee, Doug Ready, and Hal Gregersen.

  • TuckRocks

    Tuck is just so amazing and wonderful. I have not seen much of anything ever to be critical of about Tuck. It simply awesome

  • Grain of Salt

    Some of these professors were one-off adjuncts and are no longer w/the school or teaching. Please do some due-diligence on this list. Additionally check whether professors moved schools before assigning them to one (e..g Morten Hansen)

  • Prospective

    Amazing that Tuck outperformed all but HBS in thinkers in the top 15!

  • Jeff Schmitt

    Hi, BeReal. The criteria for inclusion is under “Rankings Based on Votes – and Reader Opinion” heading on page 1. Thanks for writing in. – Jeff

  • tuck

    Please correct No. 13 – The name is “Vijay Govindarajan” Surprising that you couldn’t cross-check the spelling of one of leading thinkers of our time.

  • BeReal

    Who put this random list together? Based on what?

  • M7

    I am a second year at an M7 program and it absolutely has gotten me a few fantastic job offers, but really unimpressed with the professors. This seems like a common theme after talking with friends at other M7 and top 15 programs. The vast majority of these “thought leaders” and professors have EXTREMELY limited professional experience outside of academia. Some are engaging speakers, but I wouldn’t trust almost any of them to turn around my company, let alone a major international firms.

  • You don’t understand everything you know, Jim. The sad fact is that few business leaders or CEOs are innovative management thinkers. Fewer still can write about an idea that originated with them. And “management thinkers” is what this award is about, isn’t it?

    Check out Christensen’s background. After getting his MBA, he was at BCG for several years and then launched an advanced-ceramics company, which is still in business. When he was 38, he pulled up stakes to go get his PhD.

    Hamel has long been a heavyweight consulting guy. Rita McGrath launched two start-ups during the 11-year gap between getting her MBA and her PhD. Don Tapscott started what eventually became a large international think tank after getting his PhD; it was acquired. Roger Martin spent thirteen years at Monitor before joining the faculty at the Rotman School @ the U. of Toronto, where he eventually became Dean. He also co-authored, with P&G’s A.G. Lafley, the best-selling ‘Playing to Win.’

  • If Porter is a hoax, you’re an ignoramus. Or, better, an ignoranus.

  • frank burns

    Whilst I have the utmost respect for these guys as thinking about business is a critical skill running one is the only true value . How many of these “thinkers” could turn a company around ?

  • Christian Sarkar

    Porter is a hoax, it seems… http://managementnext.com/pdf/2013/MN_Jan_2013.pdf enough said…

  • lo

    Julian Birkinshaw* (LBS)

  • Jim Barker

    What if anything have they managed in an actual business setting ? Branded talking heads, book sellers and journal writers. I think the days of academics getting taken seriously in business are over, there has to be proof of concept in a real setting.