12:52 April 20, 2010
C K Prahalad (1941 - 2010)
Rock solid, Rock bottom Rock star
Coimbatore Krishnarao Prahalad wore many hats in his distinguished career of many years - strategist, professor, consultant, and author - but all throughout, he remained what he was - an unassuming thinker-practitioner who excavated the enormous business potential at the bottom of the pyramid while most of the others were busy squeezing the wrinkled lemons at the top.
C K Prahalad was born on August 8, 1941 at Coimbatore in a cultured Brahmin family of a lawyer and Sanskrit scholar. Armed with a BSC from Chennai’s Loyola College, he joined the ranks of the now- infamous Union Carbide as a manager. This stint proved a landmark in Prahalad’s voyage as a sensitive crusader of radical management theories. Among other things, his humane approach to business showed in his intrepid protest against a literally “hand in glove” discrimination - while the blue-collared staff were allotted inferior hand gloves at the plant, the managers wore superior varieties. His undivided attention to grassroots wisdom, that’s invariably devoid of stardom, found its roots here.
The Union carbide tenure made way for an MBA from IIM, Ahmedabad and a Harvard doctorate in multinational management in a record 2.5 year’s time.
After a brief stint back home, he joined Michigan University’s Ross School of Business in 1977 as a professor of business strategy. What followed is history, and now well known. He won worldwide recognition, thanks to his pioneering lectures and bestseller management books, prime among them “Core Competence” “Computing for the Future”, The Future of Competition’, “The New Age of Innovation” and of course, the runaway hit “Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid - Eradicating Poverty through Profit”
Despite the opposing theories that Bottom of Pyramid can never reap a fortune and that it’s a producing haven at best, not a consumer hub, he stuck to his guns. Today, the worldwide retail revolution and the desperate supply-side ploys to lure the common man with innovative products and services bear testimony to Prahalad’s conviction.
Till the very end, Prahalad was obsessed with mass-market innovation that would ensure sustainable “more-with-less” transformation at the grassroots - be it cost-effective transport, standardized cell phone chargers, eatable packaging or waterless detergents.
“For a popular medium, the best kind of inspiration should derive from life and have its roots in it” remarked the legendary Satyajit Ray in the context of cinema. At the core of Prahalad’s pragmatism was this profound belief. For him, sustainability was more than a need; it was an opportunity for innovation. His untimely demise is undoubtedly an irreparable loss. May his tribe grow!