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on October 11, 2015
As a history of the evolution of ideas and concepts that make much of strategy oriented discussions in modern enterprises, the book succeeds in building an engaging narrative of how strategy as an intellectual pursuit has driven the development of consulting firms over the past century. Once you complete reading this book, you'll understand and appreciate how the latest bestseller book/theme in strategy often stands on the shoulders of people with profound ability to borrow ideas and simplify them.

I do wish that the book went beyond the idea that Strategy is a vocation will go further into a metamodel of how people make or break organizations and markets. For a book written post 2008 , we hear less of how the lords of strategy ( past and those evolving now) understand the impact of widespread access to information and data as well as the ability to rapidly process information to develop and prove/disprove hypotheses.

However, the book is an absolute must-read for anyone with an interest in the profession of strategic planning and strategy consulting.
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on May 29, 2015
This is an exhaustive and thorough examination of the history and development of strategy in corporate america. It provides a complete framework for the examination of the various tools and techniques the large consulting firms use, who created them and why they came to exist. A must-read for any strategy practitioner serious about understanding the tools she is using.

From a pure history perspective, this book is fantastic. It does not seek to impart to the reader an ability to develop or apply strategy, rather it gives the practitioner a solid understanding of where the tools came from and how their use has evolved.

Unfortunately, it appears the author was not writing to a general business audience as his use of words found only in the higher reaches of academia and references to obscure social contexts will drive many readers away. The author clearly posses a strong command of the english language, I prefer books where it is used to enhance readability.

I would have rated the book 4 stars but the choice of obscure words and references brings this book back to a 3 star rating from me.
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on October 19, 2011
Let's clarify what The Lords of Strategy is and what it isn't.

It is ...

... a historical view of the strategy consulting industry as driven by Boston Consulting Group, Bain & Co., and McKinsey& Co. in the US, and eventually worldwide, from 1963 until 2010. Some other consultancies are acknowledged to have existed but with minimal impact on the industry.

... a look into the careers and personalities that were successful in influencing the strategy consulting industry, in how clients were procured, how projects were run, and how the products/ideas that were sold.

... a view that the academic contributions to business strategy thought stemmed mostly from Michael Porter alone although sometimes with some help from a handful of others with Harvard connections.

... a rosy view of strategy consultants and their work. There are times when the author talks about when the consultants steered into some trouble, but they come off as brilliant, well-intentioned souls who have made the world a far better place.

... a well-written story. M. Kiechel tells the tale in a very readable manner and likes to pepper in words that you don't often read in business books. If you like reading lines like this, "Begin with the element of propinquity.", you will enjoy reading this book.

... biased towards all things associated with Harvard. M. Kiechel goes a long way to explain the education credentials of people and ideas and how they relate in some way to Harvard. It starts to feel like the author is being paid for a Harvard commercial, and it gets tedious by the end.

It is not ...

... a beginner's guide to business strategy. The reader is assumed to have some familiarity with the subject. The book will be enjoyed best by MBA types - especially strategy consultants.

... a comprehensive view of the history of business strategy thought. For that, I would HIGHLY recommend Strategy Safari: A Guided Tour Through The Wilds of Strategic Management by Mintzberg, et al.
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on February 10, 2010
In the Lords of Strategy, Walter Kiechel deftly unpacks many of the ideas that many of us take for granted -- from competitive advantage to value chain to core competencies -- and explains their history, impact, and relevance with insight and wit. He takes material that could have been as dry as day-old toast and instead creates an engaging and compelling read.

Kiechel approaches his subject neither with reverence nor venom: he helps us understand the pioneering thinkers who created the world of "business strategy" by exploring the ways in which they reshaped the corporate landscape, how their personalities influenced their work, and the lasting impact (for better and worse) that they have had. He's equally prescient about how the Lords bolstered the careers of their client CEOs and enriched shareholders (eventually) -- and why, especially for middle managers, a deep consulting engagement can feel more like a rectal exam than an exercise in improving the company. He traces the rising dominance of left-brained analytical thinking in the consulting firm and the executive suite as well as the increasing "fierceness" of capitalism.

I've learned more reading this book than in any 10 average business books (and I've read a lot of them). It really is a must-read for anyone in business or entering the corporate world. It will explain much, prepare you well, and expand your understanding of contemporary business thinking.

Full disclosure: the author is a former colleague. The principal impact that has had on this review is that I can say unabashedly that in this book he demonstrates the same erudition, wit, and ability to bring together seemingly disparate ideas, people, and events into a thoroughly compelling narrative just as he did when we worked together. I've already purchased multiple copies of this book for associates so my money is co-located with my mouth.
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on June 22, 2010
The Lords of Strategy is three books in one: 1) a history of the business strategy industry, 2) a biography of major commercial and academic strategy conceptualists, and 3) a survey of key strategic concepts and frameworks.

I was familiar with several of the frameworks for strategic analysis--including the BGC growth-share matrix, Ken Ohmae's 3C analysis (The Mind of the Strategist), and Michael Porter's value chain (Competitive Advantage)--from prior coursework and reading, and from applications of all three in marketing strategy development projects. While this book does not provide enough detail for the reader to effectively utilize any of the frameworks, I did find the context as to how the strategy concepts and frameworks were initially developed and used enlightening. Walter Kiechel III, the author and former editorial director of Harvard Business Publishing and managing editor at Fortune magazine, also describes some of the more faddish and less useful concepts such as core competencies, strategic capabilities and reengineering.

The book opens by describing the 3 phases of business strategy history (the 3 Ps): positioning (from the 1960s through the 1980s), process (since the 1980s), and people (a recent and more nebulous phase that is still being defined). Chapters 2 through 15 tell the story of strategy consulting from the 1960s to the present. Chapter 16 poses the question, "Where was strategy when the global financial system collapsed?" It reads as if it the author felt obliged to bolt it on, and doesn't really fit with the rest of the book. The author also includes a coda that speculates on the future of strategy and suggests that four issues in particular--risk, boundaries, corporate purpose and adaptiveness--"will press on the strategic consciousness of companies."

I would recommend this book to someone who has little experience with business strategy and wants an overview of the field before drilling into specific topics, or, in my case, someone with a good knowledge of strategic frameworks who is interested in knowing more about who developed them, when and why. I fear that anyone looking for an in depth examination of strategic frameworks or an evaluation of the value provided by strategic consulting firms will be disappointed.
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on October 21, 2010
An interesting and thoughtful review of development of strategic thinking applied to Business from approximately 1960s to 1990s. Does not try to cover the impact of the evolving theory on actual decsions made by individual companies or industries. It impresses me as useful for understanding and a basis for future insight. Limited usefulness for drawing conclusions or making current decisions.
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VINE VOICEon July 17, 2016
There's a select audience for this business book, but anyone who has a interest in the history of business strategy will find this book very interesting. The reason for 4 stars versus 5 is that I am racking my brain to find a lot of useful and applicable information in the book to help me become better at building a strategy. In my MBA class I was looking for some pearls of wisdom from the book but some of the best tips are the books that are referenced in this one. In summary, if you are very interested in the history of the strategy business, you will love this book.
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on October 9, 2014
In the permeable world of consultants, each claiming the impact of its work or offering on the business of their clients, defining what strategy consulting really is, how it started & how it evolved, & what does the star cast look like constitutes a fascinating story, not just for its method, order & depth of research but, in my mind, in equal measure, for its slightly acerbic but always witty representation.

It was interesting for me to learn along the way how each firm looked at itself (McKinsey - the champions of C-Suite relationships, BCG - pioneers of many strategy constructs drunk on its own intellect, Bain - impact stock price over multi-year engagements & the like). The other interesting part was that this story is not just the story of consulting firms & their businesses. It is also a story of Harvard Business School & how its curricula, faculty, & the overall MBA program changed over the years on the back of Porter's contributions to strategy. Thirdly, nothing of any significant impact has been tabled supporting people as a strategic asset though right from Tom Peters & many others like him have never really had any dearth of constructs (The S Curve, for example) that center on people as a strategic asset. Along the way, came the stark definition of strategy parred down to "means of creating shareholder value" culminating in PE firms - the ultra-rational business - that became big recruiters of strategy firms. The breakdown of the value chain model of a business tying suppliers, financiers, businesses & consumers started to wobble with the coming of the internet & the ensuing search for a new model to led rather esoteric "network models" that nobody could implement.

The twenty first century story of strategy, as you'd imagine given the collapse of the financial system, is not the most redeeming. And while a bulk of blame might reside within both the actual financial services companies & the lax regulatory environment, Kiechel points out that these Financial Services companies were all great recruiters of strategy consulting firms, albeit by the time of the crisis, these firms were no longer in the C-suite as much as they used to be earlier. Having said that "strategy as risk management", many concede, was a concept that never really took off. The final chapter is really a lot of very interesting speculation on the future of strategy & how to build strategy in the DNA of organizations, how strategy needs to be "adaptive" & the kind of organization that'll thrive is a learning & a democratic one where strategic insights are fostered from just about anywhere & these are then assimilated into the organization's functions.

All in all, this is a story of remarkably gifted people, high on analytical ability, aggressive & champions of devising constructs that had a tremendous impact on many businesses & lifted the business school from the lower rungs of the academic ladder to one of the top ones.If nothing else, this one fact remains indisputable.
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on January 3, 2011
Sometime ago I read a book titled "The Witch Doctors" written by two The Economist writers. That book was written about a decade ago and its topic is not strategy per se but management gurus. Compared to "Lords of Strategy", the book by those writers is very dismal. All they did was whine about re-engineering, business books, and gurus.

This is a book about strategy. The players it covers are the ones who shaped it starting from The Boston Consulting Group (BCG). So the main topics of this book are the consultancies-BCG, Bain and Company, and Mckinsey. Also featured is Michael Porter and others that have shaped strategic thinking. Notable absent is Peter Drucker, even if he is in the pure management side. Throughout reading the book, I was mesmerized in large part because the content is about the history of the stuff they teach you at business school. It's interesting where things like the SWOT analysis, Value Chain, Five forces and core competencies come from. I am not aware of another book like this, in any event count your blessings that this one is very readable and well written.

What exactly is strategy? The only definition only given is that it is the art of the general. My own definition is that strategy is organization wide. It can also be defined by its aim-sustainable competitive advantage. I will make stand on the last sentence even though some consultants will want to pretend that there is no such thing. Even if it exist, it is fleeting so while there is competitive advantage, none are sustainable. I am also a big fan of the resource view of the firm, that is a business is a portfolio of its capabilities, the highest raking of which is the core competency. I gravitate toward competencies because it can be created, honed, and sustained. The more competencies a business has, the better, as with the number of potential innovations floating in the world, it may be infinite. It would be interesting if this thinking of mine changes in the future.

Only 1% of business books every year deserves to be read. This, to borrow a biker's jargon, is a one per center.
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on August 10, 2010
This book is breaking new ground, it is the first book that tells the story of Strategy consulting. Identifying the key names that started this practice.

Some key points of this book:
- It is very nice to read. The author style is influenced by his previous work, sometimes its similar to a magazine article.
- Has lots of new personal information on Bruce Henderson, the founder of BCG, professor Michael Porter, Fred Gluck from McKinsey and Bill Bain.
- Its major subject is the history of key concepts developed by BCG, McKinsey, Bain and Michael Porter. More recent concepts are also discussed, like Time Based Competition.
- Each major concept is briefly explained in the context that it was first developed (good for general knowledge on the subject).
- Looks like the author has done quite a lot of specific research to prepare the book, like interviewing lots of people that today are alive and collecting information on some key persons that have passed away.
- The author attempted in his final chapters to discuss the future of strategy and the impact of recent events like the financial crisis that started in 2007.

Walter Kiechel has a done a great service in placing the contributions of Bruce Henderson in historical perspective, identifying him as the founder of Strategy Consulting.

There is a major line of events that happened during the same time span (of the history told) that is not mentioned in the book: The development of the concepts around Information Systems for Top Executives, with ideas like Critical Success Factors, Key Performance Indicators, the Balanced ScoreCard and so on. These concepts have a lot to do with strategy implementation (which is briefly discussed in the book) and it would be essential to complete the history of strategy as it stands today.
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