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C.K. Prahalad By Adi Ignatius I first met C.K. Prahalad in July 2008 . I
C.K. Prahalad By Adi Ignatius I first met C.K. Prahalad in July 2008 . I

C.K. Prahalad

C.K. Prahalad By Adi Ignatius I first met C.K. Prahalad in July 2008 . I was

By Adi Ignatius

I first met C.K. Prahalad in July 2008. I was the deputy managing editor of Time magazine, and had organized a discussion in New York City to debate "creative capitalism" — Bill Gates' idea for spreading the benefits of capitalism to the billions who have been left out.

When I'd asked Gates whom he most wanted with him on the panel, the answer had come back at once: C.K. Prahalad, the brilliant strategy thinker at the University of Michigan.

It's little wonder why. C.K. had created a remarkable body of work, from his celebrated May 1990 HBR article (with Gary Hamel) that coined the term "core competencies," to his groundbreaking 2004 book, The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, which identified how the world's poor could be a valuable market. The Thinkers 50 List, published annually by the (U.K.) Times, more than once rated C.K. as the world's most influential management thinker.

Beyond his scholarship, C.K. could be counted on in any discussion to provide wise, assured, and often blunt insight. During the talk on creative capitalism, C.K. found an opportunity to chide his hosts: "This movement will not go forward if the media does not play its part," he said. "The stories from the poor countries need not be only stories of poverty and corruption."

We took his harangue as a worthy challenge.

Several months later, when I was interviewing for the position of editor in chief of the Harvard Business Review, C.K. was one of the first people I called. What did he think about the magazine, about current coverage of management issues? C.K. was generous

with his time and straightforward with his views, offering praise for HBR where it was due and pointing out what he saw as its shortcomings. C.K. urged me to compete for the job, adding that he would be a willing sounding board if I landed it. I'm sorry that I won't have more opportunities to benefit from his wisdom.

I met C.K. for the final time just last month, in Boston. We sat at a restaurant in the

Westin Copley Hotel, eating sandwiches and discussing our latest passions. C.K. had recently co-written an important piece for HBR on how sustainability has become the most important driver of business innovation. He had several projects in the pipeline including what turned out to be his final column for HBR, an explanation of why companies so often fail to deal with their most obvious challenges, which we'll publish in our June issue.

C.K. also expressed enthusiasm about a book he was co-writing for HBR Press with HBR editor at large Anand Raman, on how some of the best management ideas these days are coming from India and the other emerging markets, and are reshaping management theory.

I asked how he could be so prolific, writing intelligently about so many subjects. His

secret, he said, was to collaborate whenever possible with a strong partner. "I work hard and I work quickly," he said. "But once I'm done with a project, I like to move on to a new one, and leave it to my collaborators to deal with the legacy of the last one."

That kind of energy and breadth inspired me to select C.K. as our pioneer columnist when we introduced opinion pieces in the re-launched HBR magazine in January 2010. No one, we thought, better combined gravitas with a willingness to pursue new ideas.

The column format was a challenge for someone used to writing long-form pieces, and required C.K. to develop a new skill set. (As Blaise Pascal once famously put it: "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.")

But C.K. aced it. His debut column was drawn from a lecture he first delivered to his students in 1977, outlining the duties of the "responsible manager." It laid out C.K.'s thoughts so succinctly that he made it his annual last lecture for the next 33 years — without changing a word. Indeed, it's a timeless call for managers to be the best they can. "Leadership," he concluded, "is about self-awareness, recognizing your failings, and developing modesty, humility, and humanity."

These were the values that C.K. lived by. We at HBR feel very lucky to have been able to cross paths with him so many times during his extraordinary journey.


Manifesto writer for business survival

By Stefan Stern April 18 2010

Coimbatore Krishnarao (CK) Prahalad, one of the world’s most influential management thinkers, has died in San Diego, California, aged 68, after a short illness.

His death brings a premature end to what was a remarkable and highly productive career. Over the last three decades CK launched radical new ideas which would soon become conventional wisdom.

With Yves Doz, in 1987, he produced one of the first successful analyses of the way multinational companies operate in the modern era (in The Multinational Mission).

With his former pupil Gary Hamel, in the early 1990s, he developed the now unexceptional concept of “core competencies” (in Competing for the Future, 1994). With Venkat Ramaswamy, in 2004, he explained how the new world of interconnected business was transforming the way companies had to deal with their customers, a process they called “co-creation” (in The future of Competition.

And perhaps most significantly of all, also in 2004, he published The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, a book that challenged global business to consider serving the billions of people earning only a few dollars a day. In fast-developing markets all around the world, CK’s doctrine now holds sway. More than any other figure, he has provided a manifesto for how global business might prosper.

CK was a popular and influential professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. He was also much sought after as an adviser to business. He was a non-executive director at Hindustan Lever, the NCR corporation, and also Pearson, publisher of the Financial Times. He was a member of Microsoft’s Indian advisory board.

Recently CK had been working with the Confederation of Indian Industry on the “India at 75” project, a plan to cement India’s position as an economic powerhouse by its 75th Independence Day in 2022.

Born in south India, CK’s father was a Sanskrit scholar and judge in Chennai. His first experience of the business world came as a young manager with Union Carbide. After four years he began his academic career, at the Indian Institute of Management, followed by a doctorate at Harvard Business School and his subsequent appointment in Michigan. CK was married with two children.

The last time CK spoke to the FT he was buzzing with intellectual energy. “Really, in all my career I have been interested in ‘next practices’, and not merely ‘best practices’,” he said.

He was universally admired in the management guru fraternity. “His upside-down thinking inspired us all, and his friendliness charmed us. He is one of the few whose ideas will long resonate around the world of organisations,” said management writer Charles Handy.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010.



Peter Drucker of Indian management

by Bala V Balachandran


I have perhaps known Prahalad for as long as I have known myself theoretically speaking,while we hail from different parts of India and have lived in different places,my first interactions with him were during his Ph.D days at Harvard and I must say that he has been a wonderful friend and outstanding contemporary.

To say that Prahalads contribution to management was exemplary would be an understatement. Back in his teaching days, when his peers were focusing on publishing papers and researching technical concepts and analytical processes, Prahalad rightly realized the importance of impact at the highest level his papers were top publishing material for the HBR,HBP etc., and they dealt with strategy at the CEO (or highest) level.

His earliest works on the various competencies are read by any aspiring manager and are treated on par with models such as Porters five force. He very astutely comprehended the advantage of collecting and publishing his works as one complete book, which was the starting point for authoring many gems (along with co-authors such as Gary Hemel,M S Krishnan etc.) of works.

His books deal with diverse subjects such as strategy,value creation and migration etc., and therein lies his true strength and versatility.It doesnt stop here from Coimbatore to Ahmedabad and Harvard thereafter,he has always been obsessed with contributing to India in some form or other and the subjects of poverty,Indian entrepreneurship and moral leadership remained foremost in some of his later works.

He was involved with TiE as well as CII in taking to the world, the Indian approach to ethical and moral behaviour (as a solution to what is known as the Chicago school of thought which has been criticized during the recent economic crisis) apart from helping chart the India at 75 vision/dream.

To sum up, his contribution to the field of management education has been phenomenal and has prompted several of the best Indian companies to invite him to join their board of directors (BoD) and strategic think tank teams.I would go on to call him the Peter Drucker of Indian Management

Professor Balachandran is the dean of Great Lakes Institute of Management,his research deals with performance evaluation, cost management, audit planning, allocation models and forecasting.


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