Excellence Hall of Fame – Henry Mintzberg

Henry Mintzberg
Nominated by: Neal Traynor
Seconded by: Michael Sutton and John Bourke


Henry is one of the leading management thinkers in the world and has been for many years. The Economist magazine referrers to him as the “Guru” Henry Mintzberg (although he prefers the term ‘swami’ himself). One of two sons of Myer and Irene Mintzberg, Henry was born in Montreal in 1939 and grew up there so speaks French as well as English. His father owned and ran a dress manufacturing company with an Irish partner.

Henry wanted to be an Industrial Engineer but as the discipline was not taught in McGill University, he went there to study mechanical engineering instead since it was the most similar course they offered. He graduated in 1961 with a Bachelor’s degree and the following year, having attended evening courses, also earned a bachelor’s degree in general arts from Sir George Williams (now Concordia University).

Henry started his career working in the Canadian National Railways, where he spent two years in Operational Research, which involved creative thinking using numbers and analytical thinking. Then, wanting to further his studies, he applied to a number of universities in the States and was accepted into NYU and Columbia to study industrial engineering. However, on the advice of the head of industrial engineering at Columbia, he went to MIT instead and ended up doing a Master of Science.

He earned his Master’s from MIT’s Sloan School of Management in 1965 and stayed on to do a PhD. While working on his doctorate, he was approached about an opportunity to study the management practices of NASA chief James Webb which eventually led to his undertaking a structured observational study of 5 managers. He graduated with his PhD in 1968.

After earning his doctorate, Henry returned to Montreal and became an Assistant Professor in McGill University and has remained at McGill ever since. In 1970, he was made an Associate Professor and in 1975 he was appointed Professor of Management. He is currently the Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies in in what is now called the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill, a position that he has held since 1996.

Over the years his research built on the foundation of his doctoral thesis, expanding to focus on the nature of managerial work, ways of organizing, general management, and strategy.

In 1975, his article The Manager’s Job: Folklore and Fact won the McKinsey’s Award for best article in the Harvard Business Review. He has since published over 150 articles (bringing his total to 180), and he picked up a second McKinsey Award in 1987 for Crafting Strategy. In addition to articles, Henry has also authored or co-authored 19 books including the 1994 seminal book The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning which won the Academy of Management’s ‘book of the year’. According to Google Scholar, as of May 2018, his writing has been cited almost 160 thousand times. When asked what his most important book has been, he feels it’s The Structuring of Organizations (also in a shorter version, called Structure in Fives). However, he feels his most ambitious book is Rebalancing Society and hopes that it becomes his most influential.

Always happy to challenge conventional wisdom, Henry has been critical of the established thinking on management, MBA programs, and consultants. He has been fiercely critical of business schools and particularly of MBA programs which tend to attract students with little or no management experience, do little to develop managers, and create “confidence without competence”. This led him – in collaboration with colleagues from Canada, England, France, India, and Japan – to create the International Masters in Practicing Management in 1996.

He has served as a consultant to both businesses and governments around the world and has a track record of making the business world aware of the flaws in their thinking and of ways to improve it. He also has championed new and better approaches to management education and, recently, better approaches to “managing societies”.

He has been a visiting professor at a number of universities including Carnegie-Mellon University (1973), Université d’Aix-Marseille (1974–76), Université de Montreal (1977–78), London Business School (1990–91) and INSEAD (1991–99).

In addition to his own PhD from MIT, he has honorary doctorates from the University of Venice, the University of Lund, the Université de Lausanne, the Écoles des Hautes Études commerciales, the Université de Montréal, the Université de Geneva, the Université de Liège, the University of Ghent, Lancaster University, the Université Paris-Dauphine, Concordia University in Montreal, Memorial University in Newfoundland, McMasters University in Ontario, Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, The New School in New York, ESADE in Barcelona, the Universidad del Pacifico in Lima, and the Institute Supérieur de Management in Dakar – totalling 18 in all.

He has received many other accolades. In 1980, he became the first management academic to be made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and, in the same year, he won the Canadian Operational Research Society’s gold medal for best publication by a member.

In 1985, he was made a Fellow of the International Academy of Management and two years later, in 1987, a Fellow of the Academy of Management. In 1993, Henry was named “Economist de l’année” by Le Nouvel Economiste (Paris) and also won a Special Award for Contribution to the Field from the Association for the Management of Organizational Design.

In 1996, the government of Quebec presented him with Prix du Quebec for social science and the Academy of Management presented him with its Distinguished Scholar Award for Organization, and Management Theory. The following year, he was made a Fellow of the World Academy of Productivity Sciences.

In 1998, Henry received both Canada’s and Quebec’s highest honours when he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada and an Officier de l’Ordre National du Québec.

In 2000, he was selected by the Academy of Management as a Distinguished Scholar and in 2003, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award in Workplace Learning and Performance from the American Society for Training and Development.

His thinking on shareholder value and management training is highly aligned with the Institute’s – quite possibly because of his influence on its founders. He believes that excellence is not about competing to be better than others but about competing with oneself.

Henry’s partner is Dulcie Naimer, whom he has known for 50 years and been together with for 7. She works at St Patrick’s Square in Montreal, a not-for-profit apartment complex in Montreal. His daughter Susie is doing a doctorate at McGill in Social Work, and has three children Laura, Thomas and Maya. His other daughter, Lisa, a photographer, divides her time between London and Montreal.

In addition to spending time with family, has spent much of his personal life cycling, canoeing, skating, hiking, plus snowshoeing, especially off-trail, and writing short stories. He has climbed Mont Blanc in France and cycled up some of the First Category passes of the Tour de France (slowly) . He also likes to collect what he calls “beaver sculptures”, wooden works which beavers – one of the national symbols of Canada and in Henry’s opinion one of nature’s greatest engineering species – have crafted and discarded.