Born almost exactly 100 years ago in Nashville, Tennessee, Bruce Henderson was in some respects a man ahead of his time. He would
have reveled in the current era of “big data” and the
business analytics it permits. But then again, that era
might never have arrived, or arrived much later, if
it hadn’t been for the strategy revolution Henderson
helped set in motion.
You probably have never heard of him. And yet
Henderson practically created the way that modern
corporations understand themselves, including their
ever deeper dive into the numbers behind their business. Pound for pound, the firm he founded and the
two competitors that grew up in response have done
more than anyone else to shape strategies at the largest companies around the world.
If he had been associated with some material
object, as, say, Gordon Moore was with semicon-
ductors, the fame of Bruce Henderson might have
spread wider. But Henderson’s province was ideas,
or if not ideas exactly rather frameworks that made
sense of theretofore uncorrelated data. Specifically
data underlying the microeconomics of a particular
business or company, its costs, share of market, rev-
enue trend lines.
What the founder of The Boston Consulting Group
was ultimately looking for were empirically based
principles to explain how competition worked. With
those principles in hand, he believed, he could explain
to clients how competitive advantage could be gained,
or why their cause was relatively hopeless.
When he died in 1992, the Financial Times said of
him, “few people have had as much impact on international business in the second half of the twentieth
Bruce Henderson: The Henry Ford of Big Data
BY WALTER KIECHEL III