It was at a technology conference in 2004 that Carly Fiorina, then CEO of Hewlett-Packard, was delivering a keynote address. She was talking eloquently about HP's experiment at Kuppam, Andhra Pradesh, where the company was empowering villagers through technology — distributing digital cameras and image printers that could be used to generate income. She called it “doing well by doing good” and went on to argue how the experiment had the potential to be a large revenue stream.
Professor C.K. Prahalad was also a speaker at the conference and Carly's speech seemed to fit in with a hypothesis he was working on. His subsequent work on “Fortune at the bottom of the Pyramid” was a great abstraction of the many examples and stories that corporate leaders have experienced.
Once during a similar interaction with Professor Prahalad, I got an opportunity to talk about Cognizant and its growth story. I was elaborating on the company's heritage, its image, its progress, its investment strategy and competitive pressures. It sounded almost like a big corporate pitch.
Professor Prahalad simply said: “You have to differentiate your firm along two or three key aspects and make sure that you make disproportionate investments along those areas.” This was such a simple abstraction of what we, as a firm, should be doing strategically, that even today all of our investments are evaluated to see if they make a big difference to how we are differentiating ourselves in the marketplace.
There are innumerable examples of his ability to abstract a theme in any given situation that can easily stand the test of time and any management theory. It is this ability that he put to use so effectively in defining a vision for India@75, as part of a large CII initiative. His prescription for a strong and resurgent India, simply put, is one of financial strength, technology excellence and moral authority. So simply put that his vision for India will live on.
A management guru, a strategy consultant of the highest order and, above all, the Guru of Abstraction, Professor Prahalad will be missed by all in the corporate world. But his work will forever remain and guide leaders all over the world for a long time.
(The writer is Vice-Chairman, Cognizant.)