Born in Baltimore in 1942 "with a lacrosse stick in one hand and oars over my shoulder," Peters resided in California, mainly Silicon Valley (where he was on a list of "100 most powerful people in Silicon Valley"), from 1965-2000. Peters earned his Bachelor of Civil Engineering degree and Master of Civil Engineering degree from Cornell University and was included in the book The 100 Most Notable Cornellians. He earned his Master of Business Administration and Doctorate of Business Administration at Stanford University, and holds honorary doctorates from institutions that range from the University of San Francisco to the State University of Management in Moscow, and has been honored by dozens of associations in content areas such as management, leadership, quality, human resources, customer service, innovation, marketing and design. In the U.S. Navy from 1966-1970, he made two deployments to Vietnam (as a combat engineer in the fabled Navy Seabees), and "survived a tour in the Pentagon."

Peters was a White House drug-abuse advisor in 1973-1974. He worked at McKinsey & Co. from 1974-1981, becoming a partner in 1979, and went on to co-founded McKinsey's now gargantuan Organization Effectiveness practice. Peters founded Skunkworks Inc. and The Tom Peters Company in 1981.

In 1982, with the publication of In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies, Peters and Bob Waterman helped American firms deal with a crushing competitive challenge to their primacy by urging them to get away from strategies based on just the numbers and re-focused on the basic drivers of all successful businesses throughout time: people, customers, values, action-execution, and the self-renewing entrepreneurial spirit. As "obvious" as these ideas are, they were, are, and always will be the bedrock and differentiator of excellent enterprise and subject to constant and remarkably rapid slippage if left unattended for even a moment. Peters and Waterman also effectively introduced the world of business to the notion of Excellence as a state of mind, and daily practice not normally associated with enterprise, but an inspiring and pragmatic and profitable aspiration. In Search of Excellence was honored by NPR as one of the "Top Three Business Books of the Century". It was ranked as the "greatest business book of all time" in a poll by Britain's Bloomsbury Publishing and was the most widely held library book in the United States from 1989-2006. Peters has followed Search with well over a dozen additional international best-sellers: A Passion for Excellence (with Nancy Austin); Thriving on Chaos; Liberation Management; Re-imagine: Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age; and The Little Big Things: 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence. Most recently, Peters has devoted significant "at home" energy to the award-winning blog,, a "Top 500" blog. Also, beginning in 2009, he has actively engaged a growing global network via Twitter. In 2012, he began to produce a series of iBooks/eBooks on topical subjects.

Peters, praised by Thinkers50 as “Charismatic, passionate and insightful, [he] virtually invented the modern thought leadership industry,” was among the first class of the thinkers inducted into the “Thinkers50 Hall of Fame” in 2013. When the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute (GDI), a Swiss think tank, and MIT created "Thought Leaders 2014: The Most Influential Thinkers," Peters was again amongst the greatest thinkers of our time. Using software-based calculations to determine answers to questions like “Whose ideas engage people most frequently?” and “Who are the most influential thinkers?”, they produced a simple influence rank or measure of the global importance of creative minds. Tom Peters is 32 on a list that includes Pope Francis and Tim Berners-Lee, among others.