The man who made "re-engineering" the buzzword of the '90s has died.


Michael Hammer, co-author of the best-selling bookRe-engineering the Corporation, which pushed companies to rethink how they operate and urged managers to abandon hierarchical structures in favor of employee teams, died Sept. 4 in Boston.

Hammer, 60, was president of Hammer and Co., a business education and research firm. He taught computer science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was a lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

Written with James Champy and published in 1993,Re-engineering the Corporationwas on The New York Timesnonfiction paperback best-seller list for 41 weeks. The book sold more than 2 million copies. Its influence on the business world ledTimemagazine to include Hammer on its 1996 list of “America’s 25 Most Influential People,” and in 2002,Forbesmagazine ranked Re-engineering as the third most influential business book of the past 20 years. (The top two:In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companiesby Thomas Peters and Robert H. Waterman, andBuilt to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companiesby James C. Collins and Jerry I. Parras.)

The premise of the book was that work must be structured in a new way. “It is no longer necessary or desirable for companies to organize their work around Adam Smith’s division of labor,” he and Champy wrote.

They argued that task-oriented jobs were becoming obsolete, as changes in customer bases, competition and the rate of change itself alter the marketplace. Instead, they urged postindustrial companies to “re-engineer” themselves, which necessitated going back to the beginning to invent a better way of accomplishing tasks. The process requires a visionary leader who uses information technologies, consults closely with suppliers to reduce inventories, and empowers employees so that decision-making “becomes part of the work.”

Hammer was known for constantly questioning why companies did things a certain way. “My modus operandi is simple, though not always easy to carry out,” he once wrote. “I take nothing at face value. I approach all business issues and practices with the same skepticism: Why?”

Not everyone thought Hammer’s advice was worthwhile. His advocacy of streamlining processes often went hand-in-hand with reductions in workers. Indeed for some people, “re-engineering” was synonymous with mass layoffs.

You can read Hammer’s obituaryhere.