Globally recognized as one of the greatest gurus who regularly created several management paradigms Prof C K Prahalad (known as CK) passed away on Friday.
Other than reading most of his articles, books and spending about 1.5 hours with him in a cafe at Borders Singapore on a rainy day, I can’t claim to know him closely. But his books and the time that I spent him had a profound impact on me.
My meeting with him was purely chance. We both were browsing the books at the book store when I saw him reach out to a book. I instantly recognized him. I asked him : "Excuse me, are you Prof C K Prahalad"? In a soft tone, he replied "Yes, I am unfortunately". We talked for about 10 minutes, before I summoned the courage to ask him to have a coffee with me. Given that it was raining and that he had no other engagement, he graciously accepted.
Time flew by. Before we realized, it was 1.5 hours. The finest 1.5 hours that I had spent. Few people would have been so fortunate to have learnt the philosophical underpinnings of Competing for the future and The Core competencies of the firm than me. He patiently explained the choices global firms have in developing the strategic architecture. However before every answer he gave, he always asked a couple of questions perhaps to assess my sincerity and understanding. Every answer that he gave opened my mind further.
His writings on Competing the future came at a time Reengineering was the reigning buzzword and hence for many it was a radical new thought. Subsequently he became a regular paradigm creator and continued till he wrote “The Fortune at the bottom of the pyramid" that drove businesses not to ignore the poor but consider them as value seeking consumers. Every idea that came from him was a blockbuster of sorts. His intelligent play on the word "foresight" as "future insight" and not just "insight" was breathtaking.
It took me several years to imbibe what he taught. Each time I saw an interesting and bold business strategy, I could see how one of his blockbuster ideas were applied.
I have it from a friend (who is now a CEO of a major Indian firm) that whenever he conducted workshops for Indian CEOs, he exhorted them to think global, even when circumstances were daunting. When a CEO questioned him about resources and why it was difficult to think global in the 1990s, he gently rebuked him and asked him " Is there a constraint even in thinking global?" If today many of the Indian firms have gone global, at least some credit has to go to him for having changed their mindset.
His parting comment to me as he left that evening became one of my core values. He said " Pursuing excellence in whatever one does is an enriching way to lead life. People often exaggerate the cost of pursuing excellence and often undermine the impact. If one has to compete in the future, pursuing excellence is a core necessity".
Thank you, Professor! This student of yours has been trying hard to do that since you said and I have to say it is enriching. And on this day with all reverence, I deeply acknowledge the impact that you made on me.