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Date: 2024-06-22 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 smoothly on all cylinders.

I was less impressed with the actual results being achieved by the World Bank.

Within a few days of starting work on a majpor World Bank assignment in India, I was briefed on what the results of my analysis needed to be in order for McNamara to sign off on the work we were doing and agree for the Bank to fund the project. I was almost 20 years into my career Up to them, I had trained and worked in top tier accounting firm in London, and then, still in my 20s, had become a very young corporate CFO in the USA. I was very clear about the integrity of data and the analysis that I was doing. I was appalled by the mind-set of this young World Bank staffer, but it put me on notice that the management structure in the World Bank had serious issues. The person who had given me this advice went on to have a very successful career at the bank, but we never worked together again! It was not the last time that I ran into like this at the World Bank. and, in fact I think it got worse over time as the
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