In memory of an alchemist named CK Prahalad

Last Updated: Sun, Jul 11, 2010 11:30 hrs
​CK Prahlad

He was the man who taught big companies to think small and earn themselves a fortune in the process.

In his famous book Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid (2004), he stated his path-breaking insight thus: "The real source of market promise is not the wealthy few in the developing world, or even the emerging middle-income consumers. It is the billions of aspiring poor who are joining the market economy for the first time", while identifying them as a market worth as much as $13 trillion a year.

So influential were his ideas that he was ranked the topmost business thinker twice (in 2007 and 2009) ahead of even such luminaries as Nobel laureate Paul Krugman and Apple founder Steve Jobs by the esteemed thinkers50 ranking.

Indian businesses too benefited immensely from his inspirational thought leadership.

So when the Confederation of Indian Industries' (CII) Chennai chapter organised a memorial for Professor Coimbatore Krishnarao Prahalad, who passed away on April 16, 2010, it came as little surprise to see many of India Inc.'s giants turn up to recount their memories of the great man and affirm the debt of gratitude they owed him.

Adding a touch of poignance to the event that was held at the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, was the presence of the wife and children of CK, as he was dearly known.

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Gopal Srinivasan, the chairman of TVS Capital, a former student of CK and the anchor on the evening, recalled how his professor, a "true humanitarian", believed that "entrepreneurs are the freedom fighters of today" who could give shape to the India of tomorrow.

CK's wife Gayatri, whom he married after a passionate love affair that began during his days as a student at the Indian Institute of Management (Ahmedabad) and lasted five years, highlighted the approach of CK the teacher.

She recounted how her husband would give her a stack of papers at the end of every academic year to throw away.

"One year out of curiosity, I checked the bundle and found them to be his lecture notes of the previous year. I went over and asked him if he knew what it was that he had handed to me," she remembered.

"'They are indeed my notes. I don't want to burden my new students with the same thoughts. Every year I wish to start anew'," she recalled CK as saying in her emotion-laden speech, filled with an abiding fondness for the husband, thinker and teacher she knew.

CK's daughter Deepa Prahalad Abhyankar remembered her father as a man "who was absolutely determined to live out his dreams".

She said he saw "work as a place where we put our values into work, not into hiding".

She also recalled his lasting advice to her:"Live a life worthy of your ancestors, but look to the future."

Dr Aravind Srinivasan, Administrator, Aravind Eye Care System, and another student said "Professor CK worked his way through your heart into your mind" and was a true "alchemist".

Among others, S Ramadorai talked of how while "CK might have lived in the US, his heart was always in India". The TCS vice chairman said of his late friend: "He was a sponge. He observed people and situations. Soaked it all in. And came up with incredible ideas."

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Ex-Hindustan Unilever vice-chairman D Sundaram recalled CK's leadership role in the path-breaking Project Shakti programme at his former organisation, which successfully targetted the rural market, and also his keenness to abolish the 'maaman-matchan relationship' (nepotism) that plagued Indian business.

Godrej and Boyce Manufacturing Limited's Chairman and Managing Director Jamshyd N Godrej said CK had a major role to play in the creation of radical products like Tata Nano, the Pureit water filter and his own company's chotukool refrigerator.

CK's son Murali Prahalad, while thanking the gathering for the overwhelming love and the regard that they had shown to his late father, remembered him as a man of faith - both in the maker and in himself.

"My father believed that to doubt one's abilities was to doubt the perfection of our maker," he said, adding,"Big dreams were a necessity to him."

The evening ended with Infosys chairman and CII south India chairman Kris Gopalakrishnan sharing his memories of the world-renowned professor after announcing that the CII Southern region headquarters at Chennai was to be renamed the Professor CK Prahalad Centre.

CII will also be organising memorial services for the late management guru in Delhi (July 8) and Mumbai (July 12).

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