The most influential business gurus

Oct 15 2009 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Who is the most influential living management thinker? According to the biennial Thinkers 50 rankings compiled by Des Dearlove and Stuart Crainer, whose interviews appear here on Management-Issues, CK Prahalad of Michigan Business School is top of the pyramid for the second time running.

"CK Prahalad's influence on the business world is immense," says Des Dearlove. "He coined the term core competencies in the 1990s, which set the strategy agenda for a generation of managers. More recently, his work on the Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid has shown the role business can play in tackling world poverty."

Professor Prahalad said that being ranked as the world's most influential business thinker was "is a nice spot to be in." But he added that it brought with it a big responsibility.

"I think of it as an obligation rather than a privilege," he said.

Prahalad is one of six Indian management thinkers to make the top 50. Joining him are Ratan Tata, CEO of Tata Industries (12), CEO coach Ram Charan (13), Infosys co-founder S. (Kris) Gopalakrishnan (15) Vijay Govindarajan of the Tuck Business School at Dartmouth College (24); and Harvard's Rakesh Khurana.

Malcolm Gladwell, Canadian-born author of books such as The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers, is No. 2 in the rankings and is described by Stuart Crainer as "a compellingly original distiller of wisdom."

Nobel Prize-winning economist, Paul Krugman, is at No. 3 and, together with fellow Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz at 22, underlines the growing influence of economics among managers.

At No.4, is Apple boss Steve Jobs, who steals a march on techie rival, Bill Gates, who falls 5 places to No. 7.

No. 5. spot is occupied by the duo of INSEAD-based Korean, W Chan Kim, and American Renée Mauborgne. The continuing success of their best-selling book, Blue Ocean Strategy (over 2 million copies sold) lifts them five places above fellow strategist, Gary Hamel.


  1. Originality of Ideas: Are the ideas and examples used by the thinker original?
  2. Practicality of Ideas:Have the ideas promoted by the thinker been implemented in organizations? And, has the implementation been successful?
  3. Presentation Style:How proficient is the thinker at presenting his/her ideas orally?
  4. Written Communication:How proficient is the thinker at presenting his/her ideas in writing?
  5. Loyalty of Followers:How committed are the thinker's disciples to spreading the message and putting it to work?
  6. Business Sense:Do they practice what they preach in their own business?
  7. International Outlook:How international are they in outlook and thinking?
  8. Rigor of Research:How well researched are their books and presentations?
  9. Impact of Ideas:Have their ideas had an impact on the way people manage or think about management?
  10. Guru Factor:The clincher: are they, for better or worse, guru material by your definition and expectation?

Highlighting the international nature of the rankings, Bangladeshi professor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Muhammad Yunus, fills No. 6 spot. The champion of micro credit and author of Banker to the Poor is the second Nobel Laureate to make the top 10 in 2009.

Overall, no fewer than 11 different nationalities are represented in the list, including one Lebanese, one Korean and one Bangladeshi. North Americans still dominate, but in 2009 18 non-Americans make the ranking compared with just 10 in 2001.

But women are still under-represented in the business guru world, with just five female thinkers in the top 50. At joint 5th, (with writing partner Chan Kim) INSEAD's Renée Mauborgne is the highest placed woman ever. Lynda Gratton of London Business School, Harvard's Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Tammy Erickson and Barbara Kellerman are the others on the list.

The new ranking also signals a passing of the baton to a new generation of gurus, with a quarter of the top 50 entering the ranking for the first time. Only 19 of the original 50 from 2001 still make the cut. The evergreen Tom Peters drops 12 places to number 19. Jim Collins, author of Great to Good slips to 17, while Henry Mintzberg, arch critic of the MBA falls 17 places to number 33.

Leadership luminaries Warren Bennis and John Kotter are down 12 and 11 places, respectively, at 36 and 41; while Charles Handy slips back from 14 to 43.

"Interesting times demand interesting ideas," say Crainer and Dearlove. "There is a real sense that how we view business and how business is practiced is changing. The ideas of the people featured in the Thinkers 50 make a difference on the factory floor and in the C-suites of the world. In business ideas matter because they can be the difference between mediocre performance and competitive advantage."