The Top Management Gurus of Today

The full map of those who made it to the elite group of The Thinkers 50 global listing

By Stuart Crainer and Des Dearlove
Published: Oct 14, 2009

The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid transformed the Indian-born Prahalad from bestselling academic to global opinion former. His ideas are taken seriously, tackle the big issues of our times and make a difference.

2: Malcolm GLADWELL (18)
The rise of the journalist turned guru has been inexorable. His latest bestseller, Outliers, is required reading for all with ambition. The Gladwell formula is deceptively simple but well written and built around powerful story telling.

3: Paul KRUGMAN (-)
The Nobel prize winning economist has taken the dry science to the masses as never before. He has written more than 25 books and has made the leap from serious academic work to accessible commentary with liberal and liberating ease.

4: Steve JOBS (29)

Health issues aside, it is impossible to argue with the man who has brought the world a series of mold breaking products. But, what can we learn about leadership from Jobs?

5: W. Chan KIM & Renée MAUBORGNE (6)

The creators of Blue Ocean Strategy practiced what they preach and swept the world with their ideas and models. Now, with a fresh article in the Harvard Business Review, they are set on cementing their place in the history of strategy. Next up, the difficult second book.

6: Muhammad YUNUS (-)

Champion of microcredit, founder of Grameen Bank and Nobel prize winner, the Bangladeshi is author of Banker to the Poor. Proof that bold visions can become powerful reality.

7: Bill GATES (2)

Once desperately uncool, Gates is now the epitome of caring capitalism – something he calls “creative capitalism.” Not everyone wants to be Bill Gates, but many admire the way he goes about being one of the richest men on the planet.

8: Richard BRANSON (9)

The oldest Virgin retains his insatiable appetite for PR stunts and entrepreneurial endeavour. Backed by a team of great people, he is instantly likeable. QED.

9: Philip KOTLER (11)

One of Kotler’s favourite ties bears the title of his magnum opus, Marketing Management. Kotler has dominated marketing over the last three decades. Along the way he has pushed the frontiers of where marketing can make a difference. His latest book, Chaotics, reflects his willingness to go out on a limb and express an opinion. Required reading.

10: Gary HAMEL (5)

Hamel’s last book, The Future of Management, lacked the sexy allure of Competing for the Future. It felt like a bid to put a stake in the ground and to call an area of study his own. It is working. With MLab, Hamel is championing the renaissance of management, what he labels Management 2.0.

Ratan Tata, Current Thinkers 50 Rank- 12
Image: Punit Paranjpe / Reuters
Ratan Tata, Current Thinkers 50 Rank- 12
11: Michael PORTER (4)
The long reigning King of Strategy is now on the wane. His mantle is now worn by Kim and Mauborgne. Porter’s consolation is that his model is taught in every business school in the world and retains huge influence and popularity.

12: Ratan TATA (-)
Tata Sons has emerged as one of the great archetypal corporations of our times. Its culture is fundamentally Indian, its ambitions truly global. There is Tata Tea, Tata Steel, Tata Motors with its eye-catching Nano car and more making an empire with sales of some $70 billion. Cornell-educated, Ratan Tata has been chairman since 1991.

13: Ram CHARAN (22)

Spectacularly itinerant, Charan is the coach of choice to some of the world’s top CEOs. His message is a worldly combo of tough exec and Indian philosophising.

14: Marshall GOLDSMITH (34)
When the world’s top CEOs need a coach Goldmsith is usually top of the list. His wisdom can appear homespun – saying please and thank you – but he has the happy knack of making the complex world of business feel straightforward. An invite to his client dinner parties is a mark that you have made it.

15: S. (Kris) Gopalakrishnan (-)
In 1981 the Indian company Infosys began life. Its seven founders had $250. Now, it has revenues of over $4 billion and one of the seven founders is its CEO, Kris Gopalakrishnan. He has helped Infosys conquer the world and lead what it calls the “next generation” of IT and consulting.

The brackets indicate 2007 list's ranking and the (-) is a new entrant.

16: Howard GARDNER (39)
Harvard-based Gardner fits the slightly worn academic stereotype, but his influence and his ideas are major league. Reassuringly for an academic, he has opinions to match his powerful insights.

17: Jim COLLINS (10)
Good to Great and Built to Last made Collins one of the biggest names in the guru firmament. Now, the part-time mountaineer appears to reaching his peak. The question must be whether Collins’ research-led formula is itself built to last?

18: Lynda GRATTON (19)
The highest ranked woman, Gratton has made progress in every ranking. Her book Hot Spots was a breakthrough moment for the London Business School professor. Now, with her new book, Glow, the big time beckons for an accomplished performer in touch with the real world.

19: Tom PETERS (7)
The co-author of In Search of Excellence should be an anachronism by now. That he isn’t is a testimony to his enormous intellectual curiosity and willingness to travel the world preaching his liberating messages. Next up is a new book, The Little Big Things, promising 179 ways of pursuing excellence.

20: Jack WELCH (8)

Yesterday’s main man has never been busier. For the former GE chief retirement means penning bestsellers with his wife, speaking at rock-sized venues and being a columnist and blogger. How relevant his ideas and opinions are now is hard to gauge, but his public love his hard-boiled wisdom.

21: Eric SCHMIDT (-)

In corporate terms Schmidt’s resumé oozes sexiness. He is chairman and CEO of the current belle of the corporate ball, Google. And he was until recently on the board of the uber-funky Apple. Add to this the fact that he advised and campaigned for Barack Obama and he is a billionaire and the appeal is irresistible. The Google way is the management model of our time.

Vijay Govindraj, Current Thinkers 50 Rank- 23
Vijay Govindraj, Current Thinkers 50 Rank- 23
22: Joseph STIGLITZ (-)
Heavyweight American economist, Stiglitz won the Nobel Prize in 2001 for his work on information asymmetry, with George A. Akerlof and A. Michael Spence. A professor at Columbia University and former chief economist at the World Bank, he takes a dismal view of the management of globalization.

The Scandinavian funksters leapt to prominence thanks to their 1999 bestseller Funky Business. They have spent the years since refining their funky gospel in Karaoke Capitalism and taking their message to the world – though they remain low profile in the US. Despite the downturn, their gigging is relentless, the BB Kings of gurudom.

24: Vijay GOVINDARAJAN (23)
Now working as a special adviser on innovation to GE, Govindarajan is an astute networker. His latest work looks at GE’s take on Globalization 2.0. The Tuck professor is a polished performer with a liking for three-point frameworks.

25: Marcus BUCKINGHAM (38)
Armed with a master’s degree in social and political science from Cambridge University, Buckingham is the celeb-guru of our day, as at home on Oprah as in the Harvard Business Review. Buckingham has sold nearly 4 million copies of his books including First, Break All the Rules, The One Thing You Need to Know and The Truth About You.

26: Richard D’AVENI (46)
Everyone likes to be proved right and D’Aveni’s star is on the rise thanks to his 1990s bestseller, Hypercompetition. D’Aveni coined the term and his book anticipated the business-scape of the last decade. His new book, Beating the Commodity Trap, tackles one of the biggest business issues of our time and establishes D’Aveni as a grandmaster of strategy.

27: Rosabeth MOSS KANTER (28)
An outstanding intellect with a series of bestsellers behind her, Kanter trod a more populist route with her last book Confidence and her latest thinking is in a similar vein. Essential humane reading.

28: Clayton CHRISTENSEN (25)
In his most recent books, Disrupting Class and The Innovator's Prescription, Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School and author of the Innovator's Dilemma, turns his disruptive attention to education and healthcare. His message on healthcare in particular, penned with doctors Jerome Grossman and Jason Hwang, couldn’t be more timely given the Obama policy agenda.

29: Stephen COVEY (15)
Covey absorbed the self-help literature and then produced a series of bestselling self-help classics of his own. Seven Habits of Effective People has become a cottage industry and Covey a modern-day Dale Carnegie.

30: Thomas FRIEDMAN (26)
The world is actually not flat – it is spiky -- but this hasn’t prevented Friedman’s burgeoning influence. The New York Times columnist has hardly put a foot wrong in the last decade. First was The Lexus and the Olive Tree, then Longitudes and Attitudes, The World is Flat and most recently Hot, Flat and Crowded. He is globalization’s headline writer.

31: David ULRICH (42)

Ulrich is the doyen of HR in the same way as Kotler is marketing. He is a professor at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and co-founder and partner of The RBL Group, a human resources and leadership consultancy. Prolific, his latest books are The Leadership Code and HR Transformation. From 2003 to 2006 Ulrich took a three-year sabbatical from teaching to act as President of the Canada Montreal Mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

32: Roger MARTIN (-)
Martin is the champion and cheerleader of integrative thinking. Dean of the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, and a former director of the Monitor Group, his 2007 book The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking brought a fresh perspective to bear on leadership. His new book, The Design of Business, switches attention away from analytical thinking to design thinking.

33: Henry MINTZBERG (16)
The Canadian strategist has always been an engagingly smart and opinionated figure in the business firmament. His next book is a magnum opus, Managing, which attempts to turn Mintzberg into Drucker-like older statesman.

34: Daniel GOLEMAN (37)
Articulate, self-assured and personable, the champion of emotional intelligence clearly possesses many of the qualities he espouses. But there are other factors that explain Goleman’s remarkable success. The former journalist has a good eye for a story, and impeccable timing. The bearded psychologist and former New York Times journalist has spread the gospel of emotional intelligence -- and more recently social intelligence -- to a largely grateful business world.

35: Chris ANDERSON (-)

Only time will tell whether the author of The Long Tail will have a prolonged thought leadership shelf life. The Long Tail powerfully examined how we are moving from mass markets to millions of niches. Anderson, editor-in-chief or Wired and formerly with the Economist, has followed up his bestseller with Free. Anderson is also founder of a company that makes robotics equipment and chairman of BookTour.

Warren Bennis, Current Thinkers 50 Rank- 36
Warren Bennis, Current Thinkers 50 Rank- 36
36: Warren BENNIS (24)
Virtually single-handed, Bennis invented the modern study of leadership. Now it has become a heavy industry. Honest on his own faults, relentlessly inquisitive and productive even in his old age, Bennis

37: Robert KAPLAN & David NORTON (12)
The creators of the balanced scorecard retain huge influence on the actual practice of management. The concept remains hugely influential and now there is even a hall of fame for companies which have excelled at making the idea work.

38: Jeff IMMELT (31)
There is something strange going on when the current CEO of one of the world’s biggest and most admired companies lags behind his predecessor. But, GE CEO Immelt has grown used to living in Jack Welch’s shadow. Now Immelt is articulating his vision of the next generation of globalization, things may change.

39: Don TAPSCOTT (-)
The Canadian Tapscott dropped out of the Thinkers 50 after the dot-com implosion. But, over the last two years he has charged back to the forefront of thinking thanks largely to Grown Up Digital.

40: Nassim Nicholas TALEB (-)
Lebanese-born Taleb is best known for his 2007 book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. In it, Taleb refers to “large-impact, hard to predict, and rare events beyond the realm of normal expectations.” Taleb points to the creation of the Internet and the terrorist attacks of September 11 as prime examples of recent Black Swans. But it is his prescient views on the banking crisis that have made him Wall Street’s dissenter-in-chief.

41: John KOTTER (30)

Kotter is widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost authorities on change and leadership. In his classic work, Leading Change, Kotter cites eight steps that are essential for leading successful change. Of these, he says, urgency as the most important guiding force. His most recent book is A Sense of Urgency (2008) – although some might wonder why it’s taken him more than a decade to return to the theme.

42: Niall FERGUSON (-)
Ferguson’s bestselling book and TV series The Ascent of Money also elevated his reputation as a business thinker. Ferguson’s flair for photogenic facts — accentuated by a scalpel-sharp mind and a taste for controversy — have made him a celebrity academic. Unusually for an historian, Ferguson teaches at both Harvard University and Harvard Business School, crossing the Charles River with seeming impunity.

43: Charles HANDY (14):
In a world of noise and uncertainty, Charles Handy is the soothing voice of reason. While other business gurus, shout their message with ever-increasing stridency, he personifies the softly, softly approach. His ideas are no less radical for that. No less influential. But has Handy anything more to tell us?

44: Rakesh KHURANA (45)
The Harvard professor is a thoroughly modern b-school academic complete with website, blog and media friendliness. His last book on b-schools felt like he was treading intellectual water. His next step will be crucial.

45: Manfred KETS DE VRIES (-)

The Dutch leadership and organisational behaviour expert Manfred Kets de Vries straddles the two worlds of management and psychoanalysis. Now based at INSEAD, he is best known for his work exploring the darker side of organisational life. The Neurotic Organisation, the book he co-authored with Danny Miller in 1984, set the tone for his later books which include: Organisations on the Couch (1991); and Struggling with the Demon (2001). When he’s not in the classroom, he likes to go on safari.

46: Tammy ERICKSON (-)

Describing herself as “fundamentally optimistic”, Erickson has forged a spectacularly prolific place in forging the talent agenda. Her books include What’s Next, Gen X?, Plugged In: The Generation Y Guide to Thriving at Work and Retire Retirement. And those are the ones from the last two years. “I’ve always loved technology and how it changes the way we work and live,” says Erickson who does much of her research and writing from a “play farm” in Massachusetts. She is now president of the nGenera Innovation Network.

Jimmy Wales, Cureent Thinkers 50 Rank- 50
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Jimmy Wales, Cureent Thinkers 50 Rank- 50
47: Costas MARKIDES (44)
The tennis-playing, Manchester United supporting Cypriot is one of the true stars of the exec ed classroom. Markides can work an audience. But, he also possesses a sharp mind. To date his books have under-performed – the last was Fast Second (written with Paul Geroski) – but he is now at work on something much more ambitious which promises to cut to the heart of modern strategy.

48: Barbara KELLERMAN (-)
For Kellerman, an interest in leadership is part of the human condition. "Every part of our culture -- from politics, to religion, and even personal relationships -- involves some manifestation of leadership," she says. Her recent books include Bad Leadership: What It Is, How It Happens, Why It Matters (2004); and Followership: How Followers Are Creating Change and Changing Leaders, (2008).

49: Rob GOFFEE & Gareth JONES (32)
Best known for their work on authentic leadership, Goffee and Jones reached a wider audience with their 1998 book The Character of the Corporation. They followed it with the McKinsey Prize winning HBR article Why Should Anyone Be Led By You? Followed by the 2006 book of the same title. Their latest book is called Clever! Only time will tell if it is a smart move.

50: Jimmy WALES (-)
Every ranking throws up an entrepreneur of the moment. Wales is the new Jeff Bezos. Wales is the co-founder and promoter of Wikipedia. He previously worked in finance. The origins of Wikipedia lie in Bomis, “a guy oriented search engine”, which produced Nupedia and then Wikipedia. Wales has described himself as an Objectivist. He is riding the crest of a wiki-wave, but it is unclear where the wave will land.

  • Suresh Kumar

    thank you so much for this helpful info..

    on Jun 25, 2014
  • Deepak Valecha

    great job its really helpful

    on Feb 28, 2013
  • Jaideep Chatterjee

    The topics selected by your esteemed journal are extremly informative and relevant. Please keep it up and be informative to the readers like us.

    on Oct 30, 2012
  • Atik Khan

    This site is very helpful.

    on Aug 7, 2011
  • Lucyl Ramayla

    Thank you so much. Through this page i can immediately see all of the Top 50 Gurus. They are an encouragement.

    on Jun 29, 2010
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