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.


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.”


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'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.

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