Charles Handy

Pre-eminent prophetic philosopher of modern management.


Ranked #43 in 2009.

Previous positions:

#14 (2007), #10 (2005), #5 (2003), #2 (2001). 


Inducted into the Thinkers50 Hall of Fame in 2013. 


Recipient of the Thinkers50 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award. 


A self-described social philosopher and the genteel, civilised voice of management, Handy’s thinking made a great leap forward in 1989, with the publication of The Age of Unreason, in which he foresaw a future of “discontinuous change”. Like many of Handy’s phrases, this has now entered the management mainstream. 

His other ideas include the “portfolio career,” in which he realised back in the mid 1990s that individuals would be required to develop portable skillsets to meet the needs of a fast-moving future workplace – now known as the gig economy. He also coined the term “the shamrock organization”, where an organizational structure consists of three parts (“leaves”): the core staff, the contractual fringe, and the consultancy.


An oil executive turned academic and, in a glorious third career, populist social philosopher, Handy was born in Ireland and studied at Oxford University. He then worked for Shell and studied at MIT with Warren Bennis, Chris Argyris, and Edgar Schein. Handy launched and ran the Sloan Programme at London Business School, where he became a professor. His first book was Understanding Organisations (1976).


The Gods of Management: The Changing Work of Organizations (OUP, 1979); The Age of Unreason: New Thinking for a New World (Random House Business, 1989); The Empty Raincoat: Making Sense of the Future (Random House Business, 1995); The Age of Paradox (HBR Press, 1995); Beyond Certainty: The Changing World of Organizations (HBR Press, 1996); The Elephant and the Flea: New Thinking for a New World (Random House Business, 2002); The Second Curve: Thoughts on Reinventing Society (Random House Business, 2015). He has also written books with his wife, the photographer Elizabeth Handy, and appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day.


Media picks


“If Peter Drucker is responsible for legitimizing the field of management and Tom Peters for popularizing it, then Charles Handy should be known as the person who gave it a philosophical elegance and eloquence that was missing from the field.”

Warren Bennis, Strategy & Business, 2003

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