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

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  2,198 ratings  ·  119 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
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published March 3rd 2010 by Harvard Business Press (first published May 4th 2009)
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Oct 26, 2012 rated it liked it
(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
Mar 27, 2013 marked it as aborted
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
Feb 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Ameya Joshi
Oct 13, 2018 rated it liked it
This is the ideal kind of book to read as a student if they would use it for a course on Strategy - to read gradually over a period of a term, to make notes from, to arrange the key points in your mind and prep for an exam - because only then will you retain stuff from it. I fear to read it now out of curiosity though is just an exercise in information overload.

It has lots and lots of information which a lot of my b-school professors would have filed under the 'nice-to-know' category for . Unde
Raphael de Ocampo
Mar 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Lords of Strategy presents a history of management consultancy, through the lens of the “Big Three” consultancy firms.

This book is a humbling tome. The amount of genius, willpower, and interpersonal skills necessary to succeed in the industry -and perhaps in life- is staggering.

The book discusses how certain firms developed their advantages, how certain individuals leveraged their knowledge and credibility into great fortunes, and how Greater Taylorism (loosely simplified into management s
Paul Dylan
Feb 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
An interesting take on what constitutes "strategy" and how it unfolded with MBB and Harvard professors. However, a lot of the ideas started to sound recycled fast. Eventually, the concepts seemed a lot like common restructuring practices or the Toyota Way thrown in at different angles, which in themselves are also overused buzzwords in today's setting. Ford, or Toyota, however did not "do strategy", which casts the role of a strategy consultant as questionable. It was useful to learn about how f ...more
Andrew K.
Dec 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Abhishek Anbazhagan
Dec 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Walter Kiechel III does a splendid job of chronicling the rise of "Strategy" and the three major firms that were responsible for it -
McKinsey: Started by James O McKinsey, An accountant by education
BCG: Started by Bruce Henderson, Dropped out of Harvard 90 days before graduation
Bain: Started by Bill Bain, a former BCG employee, Does not have a degree in Business or Engineering

This is a lovely piece of non-fiction that will entertain those interested in the field of strategy and looking to go to
Tony Poerio
Jun 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Not just a history. And not a hagiography. This book gives an excellent & concise overview of the contemporary business landscape as a whole: its structure, its motivations, its warts, and how we got there.

In closing, the author suggests a path forward different than the one we're on, and posits that Strategy (with a capital 's') may once again adapt and lead the way.

Probably nothing new if you're already well versed in the area, or a working management consultant. But peels back the cu
Nathan Albright
Sep 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: business-history
A very interesting survey of the historical development of business strategy. The language was sometimes overwrought (the word choice was, in moments, obscure to the point of pedantic, in my opinion), and the style seemed to vary from chapter to chapter (the playfulness or familiarity of the tone might spike and fall considerably from one chapter to the next). I also would have enjoyed peering a bit deeper into the lives of these "lords of strategy", getting to know who they were on a human leve ...more
Aug 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Docking half a point off the Kindle version because several figures were not included, just a note to check the hard copy edition.

Overall a very interesting book and a good companion to The Firm: The Story of McKinsey and Its Secret Influence on American Business, providing a much broader view of the evolution and dissemination of corporate strategy in the form of fleets of highly paid consultants. Highly recommend if you're interested in any of those elements.
Jun 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Say what you will about the current state of corporate/shareholder capitalism, this is a well told history of the mythical notion of "strategy" in business. Through published work, personal interviews, and business history, we trace a well-connected coevolution of the notion strategy itself (plus its forceful business imperatives), the firms who promote it, the organizations who buy it, and the academic institutions and individuals who extend it. Yes: intellectual, slightly skeptical, and dry... ...more
Jan 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Who knew a book about the history of consulting could be so entertaining? Lords of Strategy has great writing with lots of character. I felt like I got a really good sense of the personalities of key players like Bruce Henderson of BCG. Not dry at all. One star off because of the inaccessible vocabulary; I had to look up words in a dictionary every few pages.

Feels fairy balanced. Calls out consulting’s missteps and questionable incentives but also compliments consulting’s genuine contribution to
Scott Wozniak
Dec 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a history of the idea of business strategy and the consulting firms that both invented the idea and rode that wave to build their empires. If you're a consultant or CEO of a large company, then you will find this book interesting as it walks through all the major ways that companies have approached strategy. But it's very specific and tactical, so the very thing that makes it useful for leaders like that would make it boring for people who aren't wrestling with those problems.

For me, it
Feb 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
The book starts strongly and is a engaging read on the evolution and impact of strategy in the business world. I was able to relate to plenty of frameworks that are still valid and applicable in industry. Although I felt that the author discussed a lot about consulting and not enough about implementers (acknowledged in the book as well). The references in the book maybe a good start for someone chasing more detail.
Virgilio Costa
Apr 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
" In the firm’s early years, a tally of each consultant's “billability.” the percentage of the person’s ume billed out to clients, was posted every month on the back of a door of a coat closet that everyone could visit. all the better to compare your percentage with others’. Consultants in charge of client engagements would pick the people they wanted to staff their teams, and if you found yourself passed over too often and not kept busy, soon there would be no place for you in the firm. " ...more
Sanket Bote
Jul 06, 2020 rated it liked it
This book talks about the detailed history of great consulting firms in the world. Their Way of working, evolution of many great consulting theories, thought processes behind projects and decisions. It was a great experience reading the fascinating history of our dream companies but it is all history! You might never see many theories and logics given in the book in today's world. I believe there isn't much to gain from the book other than philosophical lessons. ...more
Jul 31, 2017 rated it liked it
An enjoyable synthesis of intellectual and business history, surveying the development of strategy and the growth of the major consulting firms that sold it. For a layperson like myself, this served as an accessible introduction to both subjects, but someone with more interest in either should turn elsewhere for a fuller treatment. Indeed, the book left me interested in how these firms actually apply these concepts, and it would have benefited from one or two case studies of consultant projects.
Navid Sarwar
Apr 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Great book on the history of strategy from the mid 90s. Wonderful insights on the thought processes of the leaders and executes at the established consulting firms, specifically MBB. It concludes with the financial crisis of 2008 which I thought could have been more elaborated on from the consultants' point of view and perspectives from strategy. But overall a good, academic read. ...more
Hans Morsink
Jun 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Although this book was highly informative, it was a bit hard to read. It sometimes read more like a book used for study than as a history book. But as said, highly informative, could be written a bit more accessable.
Owen Raisch
Sep 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Critical reading for anyone expanding their career with an interest in consulting or business strategy. This book offers a piercing look into the accomplishments and limitations of both fields with a mostly well-organized narrative.
Harsimran Khural
Mar 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Learned a lot about the evolution of strategy as a business function and as an academic discipline. The book charts out the role consulting firms played in the corporate world since the second world war. Recommended for to-be consultants.
Oct 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The history of strategy consulting.

A good outline of the history of strategy consulting particularly by McKinsey Bain, and Boston Consulting group. Outline some of their interaction with Harvard Business School.
Ton Nguyen
Dec 28, 2018 rated it liked it
This book is worthwhile to read for anyone in business that is interested in the development of the MBB firms and strategy in general. However, it can be a bit difficult to get through at times. It's very comprehensive to the point of information overload. ...more
Grant Ingold
Jun 16, 2019 rated it liked it
Interesting to read about the origins of the industry. Fun to read about my employer and our competitors. Pretty sure no one in my family or extended family would find this interesting. A niche market for this book.
Danny D. Leybzon
Mar 01, 2020 rated it liked it
This book was interesting for the context that it provided me for the industry that I'm joining, but I wouldn't recommend it to most people. It's rather dry and doesn't educate readers about the concepts discussed, just interrelates them. ...more
Diego Leal
Jun 19, 2017 rated it liked it
The story of the beginning of BCG and Bain was very interesting. As well as the overall evolution of Strategy in the business world.
Sep 13, 2017 rated it it was ok
I liked learning about the history of strategy consulting. If only the writing weren't so pompous and smug while also being bad. (For example, see the title & subtitle.) ...more
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