THROUGHOUT HISTORY, CERTAIN PEOPLE HAVE plied their knowledge of business to help others learn the ins and outs of profit. They've stepped inside companies to offer wisdom about speeding manufacturing, slashing costs, or motivating the troops. But during the last decade, the concept has gone big-time. Today's management gurus are the rock stars of the business world, complete with adoring fans and, in some cases, private jets shuttling them to engagements in Moscow and Bangkok.
They command fees between $50,000 and $100,000 for a single appearance. Magazines from Fortune to Fast Company quote them endlessly. Publishers duke it out for the rights to release their books on leadership, creativity, and performance. A few, such as Stephen Covey and Tom Peters, are nearly household names, with tens of millions of copies of their books in circulation. And they have the power to change the business zeitgeist with a single successful client.
"There are only about 25, maybe 50 management gurus in the world. They are the heavyweight thinkers who mold the business ideas of the day," says James Hoopes, a professor of ethics in business at Babson College. "Today, senior executives are confused and looking for answers, and business gurus promise, though they don't always deliver, a recipe for success."