Remembering John Bachmann and Mort Mandel

It is with a heavy heart that we remember two great friends of the Drucker Institute, both of whom passed away on October 16, 2019: Mort Mandel (b. 1921) and John Bachmann (b. 1939).

A reporter once asked Peter Drucker to name the CEOs he admired most. Drucker ticked off three: Jack Welch of General Electric, Andy Grove of Intel and Mort Mandel. Although relatively few had heard of Mandel, it was easy to understand why Drucker had chosen him, once you learned his story. Along with his two brothers, Mandel scraped together $900 to launch an auto-parts distributor, Premier Industrial Corp., in Cleveland in 1940. They sold it 56 years later for $2.8 billion. In between, Premier enjoyed an incredible run: After going public in 1960, the company posted record earnings in 34 out of 36 years, all by delivering superior customer service.

Mandel, who also became a distinguished leader in the social sector, maintained that the key to his success was finding and nurturing top talent—who Mandel called “A players.” Years ago, Mandel asked Drucker how he could make Premier grow faster. “He told me to put my best person on my biggest opportunity,” Mandel recalled. It was “some of the best advice I have ever received.”

John Bachmann passed up the straightforward path to his family’s furniture business, choosing instead to work at the then-small investment advisory firm Edward Jones. Through 60 years there, beginning as a college intern and concluding as one of his generation’s greatest leaders in the industry, Bachmann dedicated his work to serving individual investors. “I saw that if someone could be purely in the business of serving the customer who wants and needs help,” he said, “that would be a wonderful business with a strong social dimension.”

When Bachmann became Edward Jones’ third managing partner in 1980, the firm had about 200 offices, mostly in the Midwest. By the time he stepped down in 2003, it had grown to more than 9,000 offices throughout the United States, Canada and the U.K.

Throughout this time, Bachmann retained Peter Drucker as consultant, advisor and teacher for Edward Jones’ top executives. Early on, he wrote to Drucker that he and his team had read Drucker’s 1973 classic, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, so many times that “our copies are literally worn out.”

Both Bachmann, an inaugural member of the Drucker Institute’s Board of Advisors, and Mandel were staunch supporters of our work. Their legacies live on in the countless lives they touched through their leadership, philanthropy and service.