Benedict Paramanand’s CK PRAHALAD : THE MIND OF THE FUTURIST : Dr. AJ Sebastian sdb

Review Article

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.

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Works Cited:

 

Jayaram, Deepika, CK Prahlad, an Unsung Economic Thinker http://m.newindianexpress.com/chennai/350564Deepika Jayaram | ENS, Posted on August 14, 2014 in Chennai.

 

Paramanand, Benedict. CK PRAHALAD: THE MIND OF THE FUTURIST, Rare Insights on Life, Leadership & Strategy. Westland ltd. Chennai, 2014.

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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.