Coimbatore Krishnarao Prahalad, Distinguished Professor in the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, and a world authority on management thought, passed away on Friday in San Diego after a brief illness. He was known for his work specialising in corporate strategy focussing on top management in large, diversified, multinational corporations.

Professor Prahalad's seminal work, alongside Gary Hamel in the 1990s, on the concept of “core competence” of companies won the McKinsey Prize and sold the maximum number of reprints in the entire 80-odd years of history of its publisher, the prestigious Harvard Business Review.

In his paper with Hamel, he urged corporate leaders to think of diversified company as a tree: “The trunk and major limbs as core products, smaller branches as business units, leaves and fruit as end products. Nourishing and stabilising everything is the root system: core competencies.”

He was also known widely for his interest in the “Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid” and his book on the subject is considered an authoritative exposition of the potential for large corporations to improve the conditions of the poor in countries such as India. They could do so, he argued, by “mobilising investment capacity [along with] the commitment of NGOs and the communities that need help.” The poor must become active, informed and involved consumers, he urged.

Yet Professor Prahalad's illustrious career was not restricted to academe: he equally established his reputation as a corporate consultant par excellence, working with a wide cross-section of companies from the CEOs of the top 30 Fortune 200 firms to Hindustan Lever Limited and Microsoft Corporation, India.

Growing up in Chennai, where his father was a Sanskrit scholar and judge, Professor Prahalad worked initially with Union Carbide after completing a B.Sc. degree from Loyola College in 1960. He then went on to obtain a Postgraduate Diploma in Business Administration from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad in 1966 and a Doctorate in Business Administration in the Harvard Business School in 1975. He is survived by his wife and two children.

Chennai Special Correspondent reports:

Gopal Srinivasan, former Chairman of the Tamil Nadu State Council of the Confederation of Indian Industry, said Professor Prahalad had dreamt of India becoming an economic leader and a moral leader in the comity of nations.

Recalling Prahalad's involvement in the preparation of the CII's vision document, India at 75, Mr. Srinivasan described him as one of the great management thinkers. Professor Prahalad, he said, had crusaded for the transformation of Indian business into globally competent business. He had emphasised that entrepreneurship held the key to freedom.

Mr. Srinivasan, who is the Chairman and Managing Director of TVS Capital Funds, recalled that the management thinker was one of the founder-directors of the organisation.

“Amazingly intelligent”

Jairam Varadaraj, Managing Director of Elgi Equipments, who was a student of Professor Prahalad for four years in the University of Michigan, described him as “amazingly intelligent.”

“He had a tremendous desire to make change happen that would have an impact on a large section of people.”

Mr. Varadaraj recalled how Professor Prahalad, in 1997, brought his family to Coimbatore to show them his roots.


A master abstractionistApril 17, 2010