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Pyramid Scheme? An Early African Managerial Achievement

Posted By Guy Pfeffermann, Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Updated: Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Guy PfeffermannI am reading "The Secret of the Great Pyramid” by Bob Brier and Jean-Pierre Houdin (Harper Collins, 2008), after hearing an interview with Brier on National Public Radio:

He constantly stresses the crucial importance of top-notch management in getting things done. One of the main contributions of good business schools is that they teach the all-important skill of getting things done. It is one thing to develop concepts, ideas, or to fund sometimes huge projects. In order for such plans and projects to translate into results-on-the-ground requires not only leadership but competent management at all levels. Here are some of the daunting issues ancient Africans were facing: 

  • Supply chain management: several boats each hauling 40 tons of limestone, 100,000 tons of stone, harbors, houses, canals, miles of thick rope, thousands of copper chisels totaling 250 tons, kilns, lots of donkeys, security protection against "barbarians” along the 9-day journey from the mines, half a million tons of gypsum for mortar.
  • Technology: for example building and operating a counterweight system to haul large stone blocks up mile-long ramp
  • Tolerances: you can’t insert a razor blade between stone blocks, Great Pyramid’s perimeter accurate to 1/100 of an inch.
  • Time management: work in the quarries had to begin ten years before the start of on-the-site construction. Many other prior steps needed to be precisely timed.
  • HR management: workers were not slaves: forensic analyses show they were fed meat, a luxury in their time.

EgyptPerhaps most impressive: workers hauled stones up ramps, while empty "sleds” descended, as on a two-lane highway. For years, one stone was laid, and laid in exactly the right place, every few seconds. How is that for management? Once this planning and management organization was in place, it became possible to scale, so there are over 100 pyramids all over Egypt. The lesson for today’s world?

The world is full of people with good ideas, but only those who know how to "get things done” make things happen.

Business schools have a huge role to play in fostering economic and social progress, not least by teaching "how to get things done”.


Guy Pfeffermann is the CEO and founder of the Global Business School Network.

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