A Tribute to C K Prahalad (August 8, 1941 - April 17, 2010)
Date: Tuesday , May 04, 2010
It is nothing less than losing a fortune for the makers of the new India as well as the change agents of a new world order. The sudden death of CK Prahalad has created a void among the business and technology leaders of India. A man of ideas and a social thinker, his ideas and thoughts laid the foundation of new India with his significant impact on management literature and the practice of business globally for a long time..
From company chairmen to entrepreneurs to students of management, Prahalad’s popularity has transcended beyond other thinkers of his times. The man who saw fortune at the bottom of the pyramid, was intensely passionate about his country, India, and dedicated to being a catalyst for bringing lasting change to the land. He tirelessly flew back and forth from the US to India many times a year with a quest to help spur minds and hearts to create new wealth and opportunity there. His ideas will endure and will help many others seek new hope and wealth.
Prahalad was recognized as one of the top 10 management thinkers and was well known for his book The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid. It is this theory that many corporations are following in global emerging markets. He indulged in consulting engagements for Indian corporates such as the Tatas and HLL and even emerging companies like inverter maker Su-Kam. His research specializes in corporate strategy and the role and value added of top management in large, diversified, multinational corporations.
Born into a big family - he was one of the nine children of his parents - Prahalad joined Union Carbide after obtaining a degree in physics from the University of Madras. Later did a post graduation course at the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A) and went to Havard Business School for Doctor of Business Administration degree in 1975. After teaching in IIM-A he went back to the U.S. and joined University of Michigan.
Prahalad was the first recipient of the Lal Bahadur Shastri Award for contributions to management and public administration in 2000. He was also awarded the country's third highest civilian honor, the Padma Bhushan, in 2009.
Prahalad did try his hand in business and founded Praja Inc. However, he sold the company off soon after.
Prahalad called himself as a serial entrepreneur with his reputation as his risk capital. "I generate ideas and sell them as books. If the ideas are of value to the customer, the book sells well or else it bombs. I risk my reputation," he said. Prahalad authored several books like "The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profit", "Competing for the Future" with Gary Hamel, "The Future of Competition" with Venkat Ramaswamy, "The New Age of Innovation" with M.S.Krishnan.
The world has definitely lost a great mind and thought leader. But his ideas will continue to live and find fortunes at the bottom of the pyramid.
I admired his passion for India and for believing that the locus of innovation would over time move there. A dream that we must all strive to make a reality.
Phaneesh Murthy, President & CEO, iGATE
Whenever I had the opportunity to chat with Professor CK Prahalad, I was amazed by his innovative ideas and deep insight about using capitalism to raise the standard of living for the four billion people at the bottom of the economic pyramid.
I first met CK at the CEO Summit at Cochin back in 2003 under the auspices of Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma) and the then President of India, Dr. Abdul Kalam. I got a chance to ride in the bus with him for an hour and half from the hotel to the Ashram. Seated next to each other, we had a great conversation about the potential of India. I was intrigued and energized by his strategic thinking about the role of government versus entrepreneurial spirit as a self-sustaining phenomenon to really help the poor. He had great insight into what drives government leaders and entrepreneurs, and used that insight to develop his thoughts on the appropriate role for each. I had the good fortune of meeting CK again when he visited Microsoft in Seattle a few years later to talk to senior leaders at the company. Again, we had a very insightful conversation - this time how technology, with its ability to provide access to information and ability to scale easily, can enable new business models that can serve the bottom of the pyramid.
I remember that in the beginning CK's ideas seemed very radical to the world. Advocates for the bottom four billion people complained that the sheer idea of making profits from poor is evil. Capitalists complained that there is no market at the bottom of the pyramid. Over time, CK made these two extremist groups come closer together to see things more comprehensively. The former group began realizing that instead of giving a man a fish today, it is a better longer term solution to teach a village how to fish so that the villagers can be self-sufficient. The latter group is realizing that once a village learns how to fish, it will be an even bigger consumer market in the future. I'm looking forward to a bright future for the entire world where CK's ideas are implemented even more pervasively.
CK’s passing is a huge loss, but I am confident that his ideas and strategic thinking will have a long-lasting broad impact on this world.
S. Somasegar, Senior Vice President,
Developer Division, Microsoft
Prof CK Prahalad was a visionary much ahead of his time and I have always admired his phenomenal thoughts, foresight and ability to explain the most complex issue with simple examples. My last meeting with him was in February 2009, wherein despite a grueling schedule, he agreed to drive for 3 hours from Lonavala to Mumbai to deliver the valedictory address at the NASSCOM India Leadership Forum 2009. He spoke about how the economic crisis is an opportunity for organizations to re-engineer their businesses and create new models of delivering products and services. In fact, while presenting the Global India Award to him at this event, I was touched by his humility and kind words about NASSCOM and the industry.
Prof Prahalad has had a very long association with NASSCOM and first spoke at the NASSCOM annual event in 1996, when Narayana Murthy invited him to do a day-long workshop for the industry CEOs. At that time the industry and its leadership was evolving and that day-long workshop helped the CEOs truly understand the need to create a competitive advantage and value differentiator.
His work on India@75; Fortune at the bottom of the Pyramid; Innovation, Entrepreneurship have left a deep impact and the country will truly miss its finest management thinker and guru. While he may be no more, his ideas and work have created a roadmap for India and all of us should strive to take this to conclusion and create the impact that he had envisaged. That would be truly be the best way to honour Prof Prahalad and his contribution to India.
Som Mittal, Chairman, NASSCOM
He has been recognized for his thinking and contribution in areas such as core competence and fortune at the bottom of the pyramid. Not enough people have written on his consulting capabilities. He was a wonderful facilitator and had a way of helping leaders to think differently and see a broader road ahead through a process of logical thinking.
Ashok Soota, Executive Chairman, MindTree
He was one man who was able to translate academic ideas into practically implementable ones. He worked in the field in his dream to transform the bottom of the pyramid. He would visit Dharavi and remote villages along with his wife Gayatri to meet with people there and saw how economic uplifting of those is a viable business opportunity and evangelized it.
He had sent some of his research in the past to get my feedback and was excited by new groundbreaking thoughts in areas of collaboration, frictionless information systems to mention a few. He profiled Jamcracker in his book as well, as he saw some of what we were doing were pushing the envelope of how future on-demand systems would evolve.
He straddled different worlds at ease and commanded tremendous respect for his intellectual capability and able to speak the language of the target segment—academia, G-50 boards, social transformation to name a few.
My wife Sukanya and I had met with him and his wife Gayatri several times and it was always a blast and they made excellent partners. He loved my children. We will miss him dearly. It is a loss that is irreplaceable. My prayers are with Gayatri and his family and may his soul rest in peace.
K B Chandrasekhar, Founder-CEO,