September 15, 2008
News & Opinion: Remembering Mike Hammer
By Jim Champy
My co-author, Mike Hammer, passed away a couple of weeks ago. It's hard to believe that he is no longer with us--he was a person of such presence and force. For years, we did good work together and produced what is considered one of the most important business books of the last twenty years, Reengineering the Corporation. The book sold between 2 and 3 million copies. (The publishing industry has a hard time keeping accurate counts.)
We didn't start out to write a best seller. We knew we had developed some important ideas about changing the nature of work. We just wanted to claim the intellectual territory. We worked for years, researching, developing methods for process change, and writing. Our first publisher didn't believe that we would ever finish the book, cancelled the project, and asked for the return of its cash advance. We gave the publisher its money back and immediately resold the manuscript to Harper Collins.
We worked hard on the book, writing and re-writing. Mike and I never had any disagreements or arguments. We were good partners. The biggest challenge was getting the book's voice right--not sounding like consultants. Mike was a master of metaphor, but sometimes the metaphors didn't read well in print. I remember Mike's saying that many companies had costs embedded in their operations, like fat is marbled into a piece of meat--and that the only way to get the fat (and the costs) out was to grind up the meat (and the company) and fry it. The metaphor was colorful, but it didn't read like serious management stuff. When I told Mike that we could not use it in the book, he acquiesced.
Business Week and Fortune immediately praised the book. Peter Drucker said "reengineering must be done." Business needed a big idea for change, and we had it. After the book was published, Mike and I agreed that he would become reengineering's principle spokesperson and I, its principle practitioner. But Mike also consulted, and I continued to write and speak.
Our work was both admired and vilified. Some people saw reengineering as just downsizing, and we continued to campaign for years to get managers to understand the importance of process change. I believe that the ideas around reengineering are more important today than when we wrote the book. The internet and technology enable profound process and work change.
Mike never stopped his campaign to change business. He had a unique power of expression. Behind that power was an extraordinary intellect. The Reengineering book stands as testimony to his insight and brilliance.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.