image missing Date: 2021-12-01 Page is: DBtxt003.php L0900-ML-Robert-McNamara-01a


Leaders in Management
Robert McNamara
A very consequential career ... lived 1916 - 2006
Robert McNamara had a long and high profile career ...
TPB note: I took an interest in the early career of Robert McNamara when he was the US Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War. I learned something about his work as one of the Harvard trained 'whiz kids' who worked in government during WWII and helped create the amazing production capacity in the USA that made it possible to win the war.

Later he worked for Ford as its CFO and then its President.

In everything McNamara did, he used data for decision making and to assess performance.

Running the war in Vietnam was a very different challenge than running the Ford Motor Company ... and it is fair to say that running a complex war by the numbers did not work in the same way as it does in a well organized disciplined company.

In my view, McNamara was very slow to realize that the numbers were being gamed in a very serious way. In fact, he probably never realized the scale in which the numbers were wrong.

I started doing consulting work for the World Bank in 1978 when McNamara was still the World Bank President. It was obvious that he was an impressive manager, and the World Bank as an organization was running on all cylinders.

I was less impressed with the results being achieved by the World Bank, than the smoothness of its operations. Within weeks of starting work, I was briefed on what the results of my analysis need to be in order for McNamara to sign off on the work we were doing. I was almost 20 years into a career where I had worked in top tier accounting firms and had become a very young corporate CFO before doing this World Bank consulting assignment. I was appalled, but it put me on notice that the management structure in the World Bank had serious limitations.
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