Michael Hammer has died at the age of 60. I got the news yesterday in an e-mail from his Rabbi, forwarded to me by a friend. This has thrown me for a loop for several reasons.
First, reading the Rabbi’s notice made this instantly about the tragic loss of a person, with friends and family who will miss him deeply, rather than the loss of a business icon. I felt like I had happened accidentally upon someone else’s grief. My sincere condolences to his wife, his children, his family and friends.
Second, Hammer was one of those larger-than-life figures that don’t come along very often. His ideas, laid out in Reengineering the Corporation, which he wrote with Jim Champy in 1993, had a huge impact on the business world. They set in motion profound changes at many corporations — many of which Hammer subsequently said he hadn’t intended or desired. It’s disconcerting when such a force leaves the world.
The news was also disquieting because I’d been thinking about Hammer recently. Business process redesign is experiencing a renaissance — it’s hard to have a conversation with a CIO these days without it coming up. Just like the first time around, some of this is about efficiency, but a lot of it is also about real business model transformation. When Time magazine profiled Hammer as one of the 25 most influential people in America, they wrote:
“Reengineering is radical. It means starting with a clean sheet–if you were going to begin making and selling cars or magazines today, how would you go about it as opposed to how you are doing it now? The answers set in motion a revolution the likes of which hadn’t been seen since Henry Ford introduced the assembly line. Like most revolutions, this one has been extremely messy.” And it’s rolled out in waves.
Hammer believed in business as a noble endeavor. The New York Times concluded its obituary of him today with the following quote:
“I’m saddened and offended by the idea that companies exist to enrich their owners,” he once wrote. “That is the very least of their roles; they are far more worthy, more honorable, and more important than that. Without the vital creative force of business, our world would be impoverished beyond reckoning.”
You can read articles by and about Michael Hammer on CIO.com.