Monday, April 26, 2010

C.K. Prahalad- A guru who foresaw the future

The newspapers on the morning of 17 April were abuzz with the sad and sudden demise of Prof. Dr. Coimbatore Krishnarao Prahalad at the age of 69. In his passing away the world has lost an eminent management guru whose bottom of the pyramid theory is perhaps the tipping point for social entrepreneurship activism seen of late. His thinking and work is sure to inspire the next generation of management thinkers, entrepreneurs, strategy consultants, and a broad spectrum of people to whom his research holds relevance.

Prof. Prahalad was born in 1941. His early roots were in Chennai where he got his B.Sc. degree from the Loyola College in 1960 and went on to study MBA at IIM-A (1966). His research on multinational management won him a Doctor of Business Administration in just two and a half years from the Harvard Business School (1975). After serving IIM-A as a professor in 1976-77, he joined the University of Michigan.

According to the University of Michigan website, Prof. Prahalad, The Paul and Ruth McCracken Distinguished University Professor of Strategy at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, US, is a globally known figure and has consulted with the top management of many of the world's foremost companies. His research specializes in corporate strategy and the role and value added of top managements in large, diversified, multinational corporations.

Prof. Prahalad has been among top ten management thinkers in every major survey for over ten years. Forbes said of him: "a brilliant Teacher, Futurist, he may well be the most influential thinker on business strategy today."

Prof. C.K. 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 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. His last book with co-author M. S. Krishnan is called The New Age of Innovation, which became a best seller. At the time of his passing away he was still on the board of TiE, The Indus Entrepreneurs.

CK's greatest contribution shall always remain his prophecy for India and the catalytic role he played in helping India dream big. His book "Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid" concentrated at the economic opportunities that existed at the bottom of the economic ladder. A visionary, he talked about India joining the big league way back in 1995. His initiative- India@75 partnering with CII, launched a massive visioning exercise simultaneously across 22 Indian states. Adopting a bottom-up approach, through various stakeholders' workshops, primary data is being collected to help India become economically strong, technically vital and an ethical global leader by the year 2022.

He showed the signs of becoming a good instructor and consultant early. While still in his early 20s, he would organise simulation-based management games for young managers at his company, India Pistons, part of the Amalgamations Group. Prahalad left for IIM Ahmedabad soon, where he was a student in the first graduating class of that institute. He then left for Harvard. He came back to work in India, at IIM-A for a short stint. It was at the University of Michigan, which he joined after returning from India to the US (almost for good), that Prahalad really blossomed, first as an instructor, then as management thinker, author, and consultant.

Business strategy was his forte, which could explain why he focused on issues such as competition, collaboration, and innovation through the 1990s. His best-known book is Competing for the Future, co-authored with Gary Hamel. The book gave the world a buzz term: core competence. In the late 1990s and 2000s Prahalad started talking about the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid (which resulted in an eponymous book).

All through, he remained someone who believed in India, although he was acutely conscious of the problems the country needs to overcome if it wanted to claim what he thought was its rightful place under the sun. Despite his fame (and fortune) Prahalad remained almost the same person who had worked as a young manager at India Pistons.

Prahalad may be gone but his emergence paved the way for a succession of Indian management gurus and writers—Bala Balachandran, Vijay Govindarajan, and Tarun Khanna among them.

He was the first recipient of the Lal Bahadur Shastri Award for contributions to Management and Public Administration presented by the President of India in 2000. He was honored with Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 2009. The Times voted him to be the most influential management thinker on its Thinkers 50 list in 2009.

Prof. Prahalad might have passed into history but his influence on us will continue for a long, long time to come.

Contributed by Sarathy Guru Shankar. K, IT Varsity, CBS Batch 4 (2009-‘10)

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