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Sunday, 15 February 2009

Prof. Sudas Roy remembers...

I think it was sometime around 1983, when the Indian Tea Board decided to engage IIM Calcutta to advise them on planning a country-of-origin promotion campaign to promote value-added packet teas to selected international markets. A team of experts was constituted and we invited Prof.Labdhi Bhandari from IIM Ahmedabad to join the team. He promptly accepted the invitation and for next few years, till his untimely death, became a friend, counsel, guide and idea generator for me and our team members.

My friendship with Labdhi was essentially based on this particular interface and hence I cannot claim to know him well enough in a multi-layered sense that a long and deep friendship brings to explain many nuances of one’s personality.
However, through professional meetings, composing drafts of reports or while visiting abroad to study the markets, we had enough opportunities to interact professionally and come closer to each other as friends.

By the time Labdhi joined our team, he was already a hotshot Marketing expert and a rising star in the firmament of Indian academia. He was becoming quite legendary within the IIMA community as a great teacher and administrator. Indian industry opened its door to him to seek his valuable advice on many of their problems. In short, he carried an aura about him and scored high on the academic glamour quotient.

My first impression about him confirmed all that I heard about him. In the initial meetings with the Ministry of Commerce and the Tea Board officials, he came across as a quietly confident person who knew what he was saying and commanded an unspoken respect from his audience. What struck me as remarkable was his quick ability to think laterally and come up with an out-of-box idea to untangle a knotty intellectual question. Given his relatively young age, his ability to see the “big picture” was a little awe-inspiring. If I have to describe my initial reaction to him, I would put it as “intellectual respect” which he commanded with an effortless ease.

Labdhi was a thorough professional who helped our team to remain on course for the main deliverables and provided creative options on how to achieve those.
In my interactions with him, I also found him to be a person who could express the most complex ideas and concepts through an economy of expressions. This spoke very highly about his superior communication skills and an ability to grasp an idea. In short, Labdhi was a person with high clarity of mind and ability to share his ideas.

We visited Gulf countries, Egypt and Jordan a couple of times in connection with this project. During these visits, we came closer and I started discovering other facets of his personality. He had this capacity to make friends without much fuss and overt sentimentality. If he once accepted some one as his peer then he could be very easy going, witty and wise friend-cum-counsel.

Due to passage of time, and my poor habit of not maintaining a diary, many anecdotes involving Labdhi are lost for ever from my memory. However, what typically stood out was his composure and a sense of not losing control even in times of problems. I recall the day when we two were ensconced in the IIMC city office for a meeting to prepare a draft report when the news about Mrs.Indira Gandhi’s assassination reached us. I was watching Labdhi closely and didn’t notice any sign of anxiety about his own plans and programs or his personal security. Chaos was already reigning outside but he was cool as a cucumber.

I was spending some part of my summer break at Ranchi in my sister’s house. I was lazily watching some T.V. Program and then suddenly the news was interrupted and the telecaster announced a plane crash in Ahmedabad. Like a worst nightmare turning true, Labdhi`s name featured in the list of fatalities.

His departure was so sudden, inexplicable and untimely that we were left stunned.

Today, Labdhi is no more but his legacy endures. With his sharp intellect, insight and maturity, he put Indian marketing academics on the global scholarly map and did an immense service to his alma mater, IIM Ahmedabad, in terms of building its “Brand Equity”. I personally remain greatly touched and enriched by our short association which was so cruelly cut short.

*Prof. Sudas Roy worked with LRB as advisor to the Tea Board in the 1980s. He is a Professor of Marketing at IIM, Kolkata

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