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World's most influential management thinker

Posted by Vinoth Kumar K on Sunday, January 9, 2011

In the initial days of my first semester, once my professor asked us, as a management students you people should know about management think tanks, then he asked about an Indian management guru who recently passed away, very few of my classmates answered, and I am not one among them, I know only Mani Ratnam’s Guru movie, so I got curiosity to know about the Indians who are the leading management gurus in the country. I found something very interesting “C K Prahalad


                       C K Prahalad to my surprise belongs to my state and just 100 kms away from my place. It is a shame for me that I didn’t even know that a person existed in that name. So it is my responsibility to give a clear picture about one of the great person India had ever produced in the field of management. I thought he is one of the top management gurus in India, but I shocked when I searched about him.

                        In India, the word 'guru' is not used in a cavalier fashion. It denotes certain level of wisdom, achievement and respect given by the disciples. It is not granted by any position, power or by legal processes. It is neither conferred nor self-proclaimed. The title sits lightly on those who are worthy of it, unspoken and understood. From that point C K Prahalad can be called a guru. He was insightful and definitely provocative. He was an interesting combination of an academic and a practitioner.

                      Coimbatore Krishnarao Prahalad was born in Coimbatore in the year 1941. His father was a well known Sanskrit scholar and a judge in Chennai. He finished B.Sc (Physics) (I don’t know the relation between management and Physics) in the reputed Loyola College of Madras. Then he worked in Union Carbide for three years which according to him-in a way shaped his ideas of management. Four years later, he did his post-graduation in management from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. He met his wife, Gayatri during this time; they married five years later, and have two children. At Harvard Business School, Prahalad wrote a doctoral thesis on multinational management in just two and a half years, graduating with a Doctor of Business Administration in 1975. After finishing his doctorate at Harvard, Prahalad went back to his alma mater IIM-Ahmedabad to teach. He was a popular professor--and often got higher ratings from students than some older, established colleagues. But India just didn't offer the kind of research environment his restless mind yearned for. Rumor has it, Prahalad was also a victim of politics at IIM-A, orchestrated by jealous colleagues. Disappointed, in just about two years, he packed up his bags and left, something that some of his then IIM-A colleagues still feel rueful about. Then he returned to Stephen M Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan as a Distinguished Professor of Strategy.

                      Prahalad has been among top ten management thinkers in every major survey for over ten years. He was selected as the world’s most influential management thinker according to the Thinkers 50, a biennial ranking (once in two years) of business gurus published by The Time magazine, not for once, but in both 2007 and 2009. Only 19 members of the original 50 members of the list still make the cut and C K Prahalad was one among them(retains his first place).              

                                  

                                 Prahalad is the author of a number of well known works in corporate strategy including “The Core Competence of the Corporation” (Harvard Business Review, May-June, 1990). He has also authored several international bestsellers, including “Competing for the Future” (with Gary Hamel), 1994, “The Future of Competition”, (with Venkat Ramaswamy), 2004 and “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty through Profits”, Wharton School Publishing, 2004. This last book transformed the Indian-born Prahalad from bestselling academic to global opinion former. His new book with co-author M. S. Krishnan is called “The New Age of Innovation”. His ideas are tackling the big issues of our times and make a difference.

                 During the eighties and early nineties it was fashionable to create conglomerates which consists of unrelated businesses since low correlated or unrelated businesses reduce risk at the time of crisis. But he turned the entire idea on its head and suggested the need for corporations to focus on their main strength or core competencies. His seminal work with Gary Hamel (HBR May-June 1990) won him the Mckinsey Prize and maximum number of reprints was sold of his paper.

                    “Bottom of the Pyramid” was the phrase used by US President Franklin.D.Roosevelt in his radio address “The forgotten man”. This phrase refers to the population living on with less than $2 a day per day. When the multinationals saw this population as the victim of poverty, Prahalad proposes that businesses, governments, and donor agencies stop thinking of the poor as victims and instead start seeing them as resilient and creative entrepreneurs as well as value-demanding consumers. He proposes that there are tremendous benefits to multi-national companies who choose to serve these markets in ways responsive to their needs. After all the poor of today is the middle-class of tomorrow. There are also poverty reducing benefits if multi-nationals work with civil society organizations and local governments to create new local business models.

                  In October 2007 a series of wildfires broke out across California, endangering the lives of its inhabitants. A state of emergency was declared and the authorities started evacuating people. But even as the fires raged dangerously close to his neighborhood, it was business as usual for one San Diego resident, C.K. Prahalad. He quietly packed his bag and took a flight out to Houston and then to Atlanta. He had more pressing business to attend to than bother about his house burning down. The man was He was going to speak at the TiE chapters (a global nonprofit entrepreneurship organization) in Atlanta and Houston, something he always did for free--even paying his own hotel and travel expenses. His close friend and TiE Global CEO, Suren Dutia, told Prahalad that he could have addressed TiE later. Prahalad said, "Suren, I had made a commitment. I have to keep my word." That was C.K. Prahalad for you. Commitment meant more than his own well-being.

                  Throughout his life there was an intriguing aura around Prahalad. He wasn't a very flamboyant speaker. He never resorted to antics on stage. He spoke with a deadpan expression and little voice modulation. He rarely smiled--and almost never when he posed for pictures. But when he spoke, the audience was mesmerized. Bill Fischer, professor at IMD (Switzerland) and a former professor at CEIBS Shanghai, recalls the time Prahalad addressed a corporate conference at CEIBS in 1999. "I vividly recall his statement, 'Let's assume for a moment that having a lot of poor people is an advantage, rather than a disadvantage,' " says Fischer. “For me and a lot of others present there, this was the one moment when all the lights just go on!" This was years before Prahalad coined the term bottom of the pyramid.                                                                                                                                 

 Another leading Indian management thinker, Professor Vijay Govindarajan, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College asked him once “So what keeps you busy”. Prahalad finished telling Govindarajan about all the books and case studies he was working on and also the half-time job he was doing, the latter was a bundle of nerves--unsure if ordinary students like him were good enough for Harvard.                                                                                                                                                                                  He was a co-founder and became CEO of Praja Inc. The goals of the company ranged from allowing people to access information without restriction - in a sense related to the bottom of the pyramid or BOP philosophy to providing test bed to various innovative ideas. The venture did not succeed and lay off one third of its work force and was finally sold to TIBCO.

                        In 2009 he was conferred Padma Bhushan third in the hierarchy of civilian awards' by the Government of India.

                        On April 16, 2010, Prahalad died of a previously undiagnosed lung illness in San Diego, California. He was sixty nine years old when he passed away but he left a large body of work behind. He wanted a moral and ethical leadership shown by India and that comes from his roots. His demise has definitely left a void in the field of the management. C K Prahalad's (1941-2010) loss is not only for India but for the entire world, because he is a glocal Indian.


Tags: c k prahalad bottom of pyramid coimbatore management guru 

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