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


Michael Hammer, co-author of the best-selling book Re-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 Corporation was on The New York Times nonfiction paperback best-seller list for 41 weeks. The book sold more than 2 million copies. Its influence on the business world led Time magazine to include Hammer on its 1996 list of “America’s 25 Most Influential People,” and in 2002, Forbes magazine 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 Companies by Thomas Peters and Robert H. Waterman, and Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by 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 obituary here.