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The Lords of Strategy: The Secret Intellectual History of the New Corporate World

3.95  ·  Rating Details ·  1,230 Ratings  ·  73 Reviews
Imagine, if you can, the world of business - without corporate strategy.
Remarkably, fifty years ago that's the way it was. Businesses made plans, certainly, but without understanding the underlying dynamics of competition, costs, and customers. It was like trying to design a large-scale engineering project without knowing the laws of physics.
But in the 1960s, four maveri
ebook, 368 pages
Published March 3rd 2010 by Harvard Business School Press (first published May 4th 2009)
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Oct 26, 2012 Mikal rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
(note I listened to audiobook not read the book, though I own the hard copy as well)

This book provides a good survey on the history of Strategy Consultants. This has strong overlap with the 'History of Strategy' and 'History of the New Corporate World' however it is not about the history and future of strategy. This oversight- is an obvious blemish to an otherwise solid book.

In the coda- the author seeks to almost apologize for the obvious oversight: by focusing on consultants he's overlooked al
Feb 12, 2015 Way rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a fascinating, revealing, and difficult text. It details the rise of strategy firms (and their consultants) in the 1960s, intellectual business powerhouses who drove companies to begin thinking carefully about market share, positioning, customer needs, costs, and much more through a fiercely analytical and theoretical framework: "strategy".

Whatever that means changed through the years, and helped in large part to accelerate the so-called gears of capitalism to an exceedingly rapid pace. Det
Sumit Singla
Normally, history books are dull, insipid and uninspiring. However, Walter Kiechel manages to make this book read like a fast-paced drama. He provides insights into the words and phrases we throw around with gay abandon - core competencies, the BCG matrix, value chains etc. He talks about when and how these were conceived, and how strategy consulting firms constantly engaged in a race to outdo each other.

The author dispassionately narrates the 'story' - without taking sides, and without getting
Aug 03, 2013 Lobstergirl marked it as aborted  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lobstergirl by: Louis Menand
Shelves: business-finance
I had to abort at p. 32. (I also read the last chapter, "And Where Was Strategy When the Global Financial System Collapsed?" and the Coda.) This was disappointing. I was hoping for something along the lines of Dangerous Company: The Consulting Powerhouses and the Businesses They Save and Ruin, which was vibrant and really pulled the reader in. I do want to read an engrossing and well-written history of corporate strategy-making, but this isn't it. Kiechel's writing style is either bland and life ...more
Nathan Albright
Sep 16, 2016 Nathan Albright rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: challenge
As someone who appreciates intellectual history related to business culture [1], I found this to be an intriguing and worthwhile book, and written with a good degree of humility from someone who has spent plenty of time talking with people involved in the strategy revolution and having a strong groundwork in the business context of strategy consultants. It is a shame that many people think of this book as something that is likely to be too harsh and too damaging to the reputation or honor of str ...more
Interesting to learn that strategy is not as old as I thought.

Fun read overall, though some areas were a little tedious.

The ebook version couldn't include some of the diagrams, which was shame.

What I found to be additionally useful was that the book has a number of classic reads, which I will keenly followup when I am done with books I am currently reading.
Mar 15, 2016 Evangeline rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It wasn't particularly riveting, at least not the way Steve Jobs' biography or The Everything Store (the Amazon history) is, but I think The Lords of Strategy did a fairly good job in narrating the rise of the management consulting industry. Given that McKinsey has always been the 'it' firm, I wasn't expecting BCG to be the focal point for the early years of development. While it was fascinating to learn about how BCG pioneered and led in terms of ideas (e.g. the experience-cost curve and the BC ...more
Apr 25, 2012 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Lords of Strategy fills a void - the history of Strategy and how it came about. As a management consultant who had worked for one of the major consultancies, I was first a bit bored reading the beginnings of Strategy, as many things are well known both in consulting circles and beyond. More and more, however, I was drawn into the fantastic writing of the author. He finally convinced me with many details that proved over and over again his deep research (e.g., his knowledge about the importan ...more
This is a set of essays by an editor at Fortune magazine about the growth of the strategy consulting business starting with the Boston Consulting Group and moving through the development of Bain, McKinsey, Monitor, and others up to the early 2000s. It reads like an oral history of the business and the general approaches taking by its leading lights. I had low expectations for the book - these stories are generally well known and the firms tend to be shameless self-promoters. The author, however, ...more
Dennis Boccippio
Five stars for what has been my favorite read of the year, thus far.

While a history of strategic management consulting might sound like the last place to look for an engaging, rewarding and entertaining read, it is a testament to Kiechel's skill that this book comes alive. It simultaneously traces the history of several key individuals, key consulting firms, key strategic "theories", and key societal views towards corporations and capitalism as a whole. Kiechel brings order and continuity to wh
Mar 10, 2011 Keith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business
An entertaining history of the management consulting profession. Many people blame consultants for all that is wrong in the business world, but while this book certainly doesn't paint a flattering picture, it reveals the depth of contribution that has been made to in many ways improving our competitive position in the world. The book did not change my perception of the management consulting industry, which I am part of. I read many, many business/management books. Each time, I come away agreeing ...more
Frank Kelly
The world of business consultants and the use of "strategy" for business development has always fascinated and at times infuriated me. Fascinated because there is clearly a lot of brilliant thinking behind the work and advice of cusultants. And infuriated me because I have sat through too many consultantant meetings wondering why in the world are we paying these guys so much money to basically tell me what I already know but with lots of excrutiatingly detailed charts and graphs that, well, don' ...more
Jun 20, 2016 Zahedul rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Lords of strategy succinctly portrays the history of the consulting industry in US, particularly the advent and growth of strategy consulting from 1970s onwards. The consulting industry has been reshaped by different luminaries, and the book follows their lives and contributions. Among the founders- Bruce Henderson (Founder, BCG), Bill Bain (Founder, Bain & Co), Fred Chuck (MD, Mckinsey) and Michael Porter (Professor, HBS) - have played pivotal roles in popularizing strategy as a pillar ...more
Mar 31, 2016 Matt rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business, non-fiction
A mildly interesting catalog of the contributions of "Big 3" strategy firms - or more specifically, their founding fathers and the odd business school professor - to business strategy.

There are some interesting nuggets in here. For me, one of note was how Bain's original model of multi-year engagements (with only one client in an industry) with consultants holding de facto operating roles at a client almost blew up the company during "the Guinness scandal." The evolution of "in vogue" strategy
Andrew K.
I have a secret yearning to read great business history books -- they are rather hard to find -- and this is definitely one of the great ones.

Anyone who gets their MBA these days is indoctrinated into the cult of "strategy" -- the idea that any self-respecting business has a strategy, a mutually-reinforcing set of processes, practices, and capabilities that are designed to give it above-average performance. It turns out -- and this is something I didn't actually realize while going through busi
Jan 22, 2014 Shaun rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was a great read if you're interested in the evolution of business strategy, which I am. It was interesting to hear how the idea of strategy in business did not exist much before the 1980s. Management consulting is a newer industry in our economy. The value added by consultants in management consulting firms can be argued both pro and con. I love this field, which I recently entered. I found this book extremely interesting and helpful as I am learning how to use strategy to help add va ...more
Andrew Gillette
May 07, 2013 Andrew Gillette rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book reviews the relatively new business concept of scientific based management strategy or *taylorism. In reviewing the phenomenon of big business consulting, the book reviews how some of the biggest businesses of today went global from more humble beginnings. Big business consulting, such as the firms Bain Capital and the Boston Group are reviewed in their implementation of management consulting upon businesses in growth markets.

Esoterics aside, if you've ever wondered why big corporate o
Jun 02, 2011 Liam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Three c's: cost, competitiors, customers.
Three p's: postitioning, people, process.

"'Two things win you status among your colleagues here,' another HBS professor says, 'creating a hugely popular billboard course and which corporate boards you serve on.'" (130)

"The tightly bounded company so long at the core of strategy's deliberations increasingly seems a limiting assumption. The twenty-first century version of the discipline will have to offer more help if, or when, the dominant verb for corpora
Apr 08, 2012 Bilal rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Before this I did not have much exposure to strategy so therefore did not know much about the history of strategy. This book coherently outlined the history of some of the biggest players from McKinsey to Bain Capital. Depending on your background there are many different ways you can interpret this book. Because of my entrepreneurial background I connected all the strategies and insight to starting and running my business. Before this book it felt as if I was slowly sipping from a water fountai ...more
Apr 29, 2016 Sam rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Henderson, Bain, Gluck & Porter...The four Hosemen!
I'd rather refer to the dynamic as the McKinsey-BCG-Bain-HBS matrix. Each quantity in the matrix though can be treated as a single entity, their combined ineluctable manipulative influence has given birth to present day 'consulting-industry complex'.
Though of less attention than the generalists in the matrix, of great relevance is the combined effect of A. D. Little (who started it all) and a host of other boutique consultants that have all
Charlie Barr
Dec 31, 2015 Charlie Barr rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating and educational story

Gives a broad historical perspective on the important topic of business strategy, from the early days to the current. The narrative is mostly told through the eyes of strategy consulting firms like McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group and Bain - or their clients. Based on over 100 interviews, the author weaves in his insights from parallel work as a journalist during much of the modern period.

A worthy read to gain a broad and independent viewpoint of a complex and
Dec 01, 2013 Gersonda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book combining just enough history, biography and theory to create a solid novel.
At times the book strays from the presentation of the history and development of strategy, focusing more on consultants, consulting firms, and what its like to be a consultant.
These forays into the history of consulting add to the book rather than subtract from it for somebody unfamiliar with the industry.
In general the book provides a 10,000 foot view of strategy (and consulting for that matter), howeve
Aug 13, 2011 Cristobal rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a former management consultant I enjoyed this book a lot. It describes with incredible precision the strangeness and ambiguity of the consultant endeavor: you strive for intellectual achievement but at the back of your mind are always thinking - how practical is this? No wonder that consulting reports so often end up as paper weights. Consulting can be extremely useful to corporations, but it takes the right corporate man and culture to be able to make it happen - for every Cemex transformati ...more
Jan 10, 2012 Leslie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
My rating system is probably pretty haphazard at this point; this book was good but it probably is a little far from my life to have an enormous lasting impact. It is a fascinating history of business strategy and of the concepts and organizational structures that have contributed to a major values shift in the United States in the past half-century. Although the Lords of Strategy did not set out to make monetary profit an all-encompassing value and to increase the inequality between rich and po ...more
Ms. Kamerow
I finished this book a few weeks ago, but I'm just getting around to writing the review now. The Lords of Strategy is an in-depth history of consulting and strategy in the United States. I appreciated this book for the context it provides. I think that Kiechel spends a little bit too much time and detail on some of his male heroes, and could provide more diverse, concrete examples to support the concepts he describes. I would recommend this book to people looking for more background on the consu ...more
Tie Kim
Dec 11, 2010 Tie Kim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book after seeing it shortlisted in the Financial Times/Goldman Sachs best of 2010 business books. I found it to be highly readable and an entertaining yarn. Includes some terrific accounts of Bruce Henderson (BCG), Bill Bain (Bain & Company, including what led to his forming the eponymous consulting group), Fred Gluck (McKinsey), Michael Porter (Monitor), and Gary Hamel in particular. Walter Kiechel does a wonderful job of keeping the reader engaged as he takes you through ...more
Jun 04, 2016 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolute page turner. Reads like a thriller. Must read for all MBA and junior strategy consultants. It provides best definition of business strategy and its evolution. Unfortunately, it didn't answer my key question - what is next for strategy? Fortunately, the book did give me ample clues - the answer needs to shed light on how to consistently win in an ever acceleratingly uncertain environment.
Aug 31, 2012 Shane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book covers the history of the major management consulting companies and the other players in business strategy. It's arranged in mostly chronological order, discussing the development (and erosion) of major paradigms and key concepts. The book clearly conveys the personalities of some of the key individuals, including founders of the companies and key professors. I highly recommend it for people entering management consulting or those interested in the topic.
Kenny Pratt
Nov 11, 2010 Kenny Pratt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business
I really liked this book. An illuminating history of corporate strategy and how it has evolved over the past 40 years. Helped me have greater context for the the strategic models I learned in business school. I can now see how the search for competitive advantage has shifted over time. Even though the book's stated aim is not to teach the reader about specific strategies, I liked the review and it inspired many ideas I can apply to my business.
Rangarajan Iyengar
i heard the audio book and liked it quite a lot. since i listened to it while driving to work and back, there were several instances when i had to focus on the crazy traffic that distracted me from listening. despite that, i found the 'read' quite interesting. would recommend it to people interested in the subject. of course i would have loved to read this several years ago but better late than never :-)
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“as Jack Welch approximated the point more pungently in his 2005 book Winning, “In real life, strategy is actually very straightforward. You pick a general direction and implement like hell.”)” 0 likes
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