The “Deeper Sense of Purpose” of T. George Harris, a Collaborator and Friend of Peter Drucker
December 5th, 2017
T. George Harris, who died at 89 in 2013, eight years after his longtime friend and collaborator, Peter Drucker, led a colorful, creative and productive life. Harris wrote and edited about many subjects, including civil rights, politics, business, psychology, careers, self-development, health and spirituality.
Photo credit: The Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University
He was born in Kentucky, served in World War II and graduated from Yale. He became a journalist, as a reporter and later bureau chief and editor for Time and Look magazines. Harris was a media pioneer when it came to mind-body health, for instance as founding editor of American Health magazine, and particularly about how health intersected with spirituality. He was a founder of Spirituality & Health magazine, and was an early columnist for Beliefnet.com.
Besides their friendship, Harris and Drucker were associated in a variety of ways. Harris was editor-in-chief of Psychology Today and later executive editor of the Harvard Business Review. He conducted two of Drucker’s most revealing interviews: “Career Moves For Ages 20 to 70,” (Psychology Today, October 1968), and “Post-Capitalist Executive: An Interview with Peter F. Drucker,” (Harvard Business Review, May 1993). Drucker consulted on both Psychology Today and a magazine Harris launched that did not last long, Careers Today. Toward the end of Drucker’s life, he advised Procter and Gamble with Harris and Craig Wynett. Harris and Wynett, at the time Chief Creative Officer of P&G, contributed an article, “What Peter Drucker’s Four Great Lessons Taught Us to Do,” for a special issue of Leader to Leader, Celebrating the Peter F. Drucker Centennial, in 2010 (the year before I became managing editor).
There is fascinating material related to Harris’ work with Drucker on the online Drucker Archives, including a lengthy video interview with Harris that goes into considerable depth into their longstanding relationship. That interview is also a window into Harris’ wide-ranging intellect. It’s no wonder that he and Drucker had such a long friendship and working relationship, similar to that of Max De Pree of Herman Miller, whom I wrote about after his recent death.
I interviewed Harris by phone during the research for my first book, Living in More Than One World: How Peter Drucker’s Wisdom Can Inspire and Transform Your Life. He also read and critiqued the first draft of the book. And I spent a pleasant afternoon with him at his home in La Jolla, California in November, 2005. I found him to be personable, generous and good-humored. As it turned out, a few days later, when I traveled to Claremont, I learned that Drucker had passed away earlier in the day, at 95.
In 1966, Harris took a five month leave from Look to write a biography of George Romney (father of Mitt, and a candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination in 1968). Romney’s Way: A Man and an Idea was published in 1967, and although it went out of print, it was reissued by a small publisher, Garrett County Press, in 2012. One particular aspect of that book has had resonance in politics ever since: Harris convinced Romney to release his tax returns, which became the norm for Presidential candidates until Donald Trump. That story is a central point in a touching tribute to Harris written last year by his youngest son, Gardiner Harris, an international diplomacy correspondent for The New York Times.
T. George Harris did not write another book after Romney ’s Way. Given his life experiences, famous colleagues (such as psychologist Abraham Maslow, like Drucker, a Psychology Today consultant), and formidable intellect, he would have been a natural to write an autobiography. And I would have loved to have been present during the conversations he had with Drucker. Harris stood for all the right things: journalistic and intellectual excellence; responsibility to take care of one’s own health and improve the lives of others; and to strive for what he called in a 1998 interview with AWHP’s Worksite Health, “a deeper sense of purpose.”