Benedict Paramanand. CK PRAHALAD : THE MIND OF THE FUTURIST: Rare Insights on Life, Leadership & Strategy. Westland Ltd. Chennai. 2014. Pp. 145, Price ₹ 399/-.
by Dr. AJ Sebastian sdb
Though I had heard of the genius of CK Prahalad when he passed away in April 2010, at the peak of his career as an economist and management thinker of great standing, his innovative ideas have transformed the business world and is rightly acknowledged as one among the top ten management thinkers in the world. He was the first recipient of Lal Bahadur Shastri award for Management and Public Administration.
The book traces late Professor C K Prahalad’s academic career from a Tamil-medium school in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, who went on to do MBA at IIM Ahmedabad, a doctorate at the Harvard Business School, and became a legend with his concept of ‘Next practices’, replacing the traditional ‘best practices’, which will sustain entrepreneurship and business in the coming years. The work is a tribute to the great mind of C K Prahalad as the author has compiled the work with the help of interviews from about 35 CEOs, whom he had greatly influenced (Jayaram, Deepika. http://m.newindianexpress.com).
The book is not a biography, but rather a compendium of ideas and thoughts that have transformed the business world with comments and appreciation from economists and business magnates. Incidents and situations narrated tell us how CK transformed the mindsets of diffident Indian business leaders after 1991 reforms into mighty global players.
The book has a double foreword where in R. Gopalakrishnan, Director Tata Sons Limited, Mumbai pinpoints: “Ideas like Core Competence and Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid are synonymous for CK: CK stood for and what made CK so magnetic: a truly inspiring effort about a truly inspiring thinker.” (Paramananda, viii).
Jagdish N. Sheth, Charles H. Kellstadt Professor of Business, Emory University, USA, speaks glowingly of CK’s discovery of Core competence by which a company uses it as a competitive advantage, but also for diversification (x).
In the “Introduction” the author pinpoints how he was motivated to write the book on CK, hearing of the comment of several Indian CEOs after a memorial lecture in his honour at Loyola College, Chennai in 2011. It inspired him to write the history of Indian business after 1991 with CK at the centre, connecting the Indian business leaders. According to Ram Charan, “CK got business leaders to think in a broader scope, got them to think long term, got them to to think in a global context” (xiii). The book chronicles how CK influenced global and Indian entrepreneurs and business executives from 1980 to 2010, when management practices were rewritten and when business began to shift from pure profit making to people and the planet. CK’s magnum opus “Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid” opened up new vistas in business. He is also known for his most powerful doctrine: “Don’t follow best practices, instead go on and create the Next Practice” (xvi). In order to spread entrepreneurial culture in India, he spoke very vehemently to root out corruption which is treason against the nation. Paramanad has authored the book as a compendium on the philosophy of doing well by doing good.
Chapter 1 entitled “The Man Behind the Guru” begins with pithy sayings of CK such as “If you give 100 percent to everything probably you will enjoy 200 percent of the benefit” (1). The chapter recounts the unbridled spirit of a boy who studied in a Tamil medium school at Coimbatore, went on to become a genius in business management. The author guides the readers through CK’s biographical sketch with interesting episodes in his life. It brings to focus his conviction that the only difference between the poor and others was lack of opportunity and not intelligence. As an 18 year old student at Loyola College, Chennai, CK was motivated by Father Lawrence Sundaram, his Principal, to join Union Carbide India Limited. In 1964, he joined the first batch of MBA students at Indian Institute of management, Ahmedabad, and bagged the gold medal. His ambition led him to pursue his PhD research at Harvard Business School which he completed in two and a half years. He turned down teaching offers at Harvard and returned to teach at IIM, Ahmedabad. However, being frustrated by the bureaucracy in 1970s in India, he decided to return to USA. His oft repeated question was: “Can we take a negative and make it a positive?” (11).
In Chapter 2 “Go With Humility”, assesses CK’s growth as a teacher of great potentiality, as reflected in the various incidents and situations he faced. He used to say, “Everybody will be nice to you when you are doing well, remember the people who were nice to you when you were not” (22). Acknowledgement came when he was named by Thinkers 50, as a top global management guru in 2007 and 2009. He was labelled “Creative Contrarian” as he taught his students to look for unintended consequences of any action – ‘the toxic side-effects’ (26). His love for his homeland made him say often that “Indians may be poor, but they are not backward” (27). As a master in “Reinventing Research”. CK motivated his students: “Play the game according to your rules. This is rule number one in strategy. Invent a new game, and there will be a lot of room at the top of the field for you” (29).
Chapter 3 “Teacher’s Teacher” is most appropriate for CK as he challenged business world in its obligation to uplift the poor. As Gary Hamel opined, “ CK’s professional life became a case study in what it takes to multiply your impact for good in the world” (32).The chapter takes the readers through experiences of professionals like Stuart Hart, Gary Hamel,Ted London and others, who were motivated by CK to bring out the best in them. CK & Hart wrote together The Strategies for the Bottom of the Pyramid, targeting the needs of the four billion poor in the developing world. Hart recounts how CK was a master of reorienting his thinking. CK instilled in Garry Hamel the idea of bringing fruits of capitalism to the poor. He motivated his colleagues always asking questions and creating synergy by his ‘democracy of opinion’ to validate or negate a point of view. He believed that leadership is about the future based on hope. He used the metaphor of a leader being like a sheep-dog which is always behind, barking and not losing any sheep, knowing where it is going.
The chapter concludes significantly with CK’s 11 Commandments: 1) Understand the importance of nonconformity. 2) Display a commitment to learning and developing yourself. 3) Develop the ability to put personal performance in perspective. 4) Be ready to invest in developing other people. 5)Learn to relate to those who are less fortunate. 6) Be concerned about due process. 7) Realize the importance of loyalty to organization, profession, community, society and family. 8) Assume responsibility for outcomes as well as for the process and the people you work with. 9) Remember you are part of a privileged few. 10) Expect to be judged by what you do and how well you do it. 11) Be conscious of the part you play.
Chapter 4 entitled “Indian CEOs – Turning Sheep into Tigers”, begins with quotes of business leaders about the unique capacity of CK to make them think big and imagine the impossible, challenging and motivating them to achieve supreme success. He had an ‘Inside-Out Approach”. His mission was to initiate new ways of looking at challenges and opportunities. He had the magical capacity to challenge business leaders to re-imagine their future and go after it. He motivated CEOs to believe in themselves and focus on a clear strategy. He challenged Indian businesses such as Tatas, Godrej, TVS, Murugappa Group, Wipro, HCL, the Jindals, ICICI Bank and others to compete in difficult markets.
CK had the wisdom of introducing a new theme at the yearly CEO Forum while recapping the previous year’s theme, making them to see a broad panoply. He unsettled business leaders from their comfort zone to rediscover their own possibilities, becoming a bridge between the global customer needs and Indian potential for creating them. CK opened the eyes of Ratan Tata to be at the base of the pyramid through his Nano car project.
Chapter 5: “Global Impact – Don of Business”, centres on how CK had the great gift of getting people together and to show them a different way of thinking, focussing on innovation. He became like an exorcist to drive out all evil habits in business. He was able to evolve a corporate culture through synergy creation. The chapter is subdivided into ‘Professors can Impact Business’, ‘You can Accomplish Anything,’ ‘Unilever – BoP Lab,’ ‘India – World’s Innovation Hub’, and ‘Sustainability – Innovation’s New Frontier’. The author establishes CK as a unique Don of Business, proving him a superb teacher who was sought after by all in business. He taught them how to move beyond what we believe to be possible by using the power of innovation. He combined in him strategic, operational and inspirational qualities. He considered his mandate to drive India to be ‘World’s Innovation Hub,’ by developing products and take them to the rest of the world. His idea of ‘Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP)’ made him declare that the poor too have the same access to advanced technology as the rich. Hence, he believed that a lot of innovations would come from BoP markets. He spoke of the imperative need to unite sustainability with business innovation.
Chapter Six: “Indian IT – The Value Driver” focuses on how India has 50% global market share of all outsourcing, 70% IT enabled service and one-third market share of business process outsourcing (BPO) with a target of $300 billion for 2020, as opined by Som Mittal. CK played a pivotal role as a catalyst of the Indian IT sector. He set his formula for Indian IT: a) You cannot take global IT giants head on in what they do; choose areas where they are weak. b) Set very high ethical standard. c) Focus on value, not price. d) Focus on enriching domain knowledge. e) Lack of resources is not a weakness, lack of aspiration is. f) Marketing innovation is important. g) Join forces to compete as a nation without undercutting each other.
Chapter Seven: “Distilling CK – A Critique of his Published Work” makes an assessment of the contribution of CK to the field of strategy and management, reviewing his key works to show how they are built upon each other to produce a consistent approach to management.
Chapter Eight : “Vision and Framework – India @75”, concludes the book with a speech CK delivered in New York on August 15, 2007, setting his vision for an emerging India @ 75. It is a clarion call full of his optimism to build a vibrant India with its immense potential: 1) India turns its population into a distinct advantage. 2) India must become the home for at least 30 of the Fortune 100 firms. 3) India accounts for 10% of global trade. 4) India becomes a source of global innovations- new businesses, new technologies and new business models. 5) India needs to focus on the flowering of arts, science, and literature. 6) India becomes the world’s benchmark on how to cope with diversity with universality and inclusiveness. He struck the right chord stating that the poor in India was ready for the journey.
Benedict Paramanand has written in a unique manner CK’s life, not as a biography, but like a narration in modern day fiction, examining the mind of a futurist in CK Prahalad, with rare insight of his life and magnetic leadership and strategic qualities. He was able to generate synergy in business to make the world a better place to live in. The book is a must read for every one in business innovations and management.
Paramanand, Benedict. CK PRAHALAD: THE MIND OF THE FUTURIST, Rare Insights on Life, Leadership & Strategy. Westland ltd. Chennai, 2014.
About the Author:
Benedict Paramanand is a media entrepreneur who has co-authored business biography Sushil Mantri – Big Bets, Big rewards, Unusual Business Lessons Lessons from My Journey. He edits Bussiness Management Next (www.managementnext.com) and (www.sustainableilitynext.in, a web magazine published from Bangalore.