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Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Shyam Sunder Suri remembers...

I first met Labdhi through Nitin Patel, who was a faculty at IIMA. Labdhi was looking for market research services for his consulting activities and I was running a market research company - Marketing and Business Associates (MBA) - along with three others from the IIMA 1972 batch. So we teamed up with Labdhi. In any consulting operation, Labdhi would do the problem identification and strategy determination, while we would do the market research based on the problem and to feed into the strategy. In some sense, he would be the brains of the operation while we would be the eyes and ears collecting, collating and analyzing the data.

Labdhi was very parsimonious in speech, but whatever he said was completely sense ridden. I always thought that he had a natural Marwari business sense combined with the sophistication of a Western educated person. And that was very unique to him. He would be able to get to the nub of any business problem within the first half hour of any meeting.

An example I remember of this is the case of Parachute Oil. They were considering a price reduction and Labdhi grasped very quickly that there was no need for a price reduction and, if anything, they should increase the price and he gave his reasoning for this. The market research we did later confirmed this to be the case.

With Labdhi, we also ran a set of product policy training programmes, typically in Goa. Labdhi would usually take most sessions while we would take a few on market research, and someone from the advertising agencies would take another couple. We would advertise these programmes and write to companies and they would send people from their Marketing departments for the training.

Another such training programme was being planned in November, 1988. So, when Labdhi was in Mumbai on 18th,October I asked to meet him to discuss some of the logistics of the programme. Labdhi had initially planned to take the evening flight back to Ahmedabad but wasn't sure. The flight in those days would be fairly early in the evening and he wasn't sure if his meeting would finish by then. As far as I remember, he was meeting someone at Cadbury that day. We spoke 2-3 times during the day and Labdhi finally called me in the afternoon and said that he was staying over that night as the meeting had not finished on time. And he said we could meet at the Centaur for dinner.

We met in his room and then went for dinner. Labdhi's favourite food was Chinese - especially his all-time favourite golden fried prawns. He had those, fried rice, some noodles and brandy with hot water - which he preferred because of his chronic throat /sinus/ cold problems.

We discussed the logistics of the upcoming product policy training programme - how many people were expected, etc. He was also discussing whether the whole family would accompany him or just his wife.

Then later he mentioned that he had been spoken to at IIMA regarding whether he would be interested in taking up the Director's position and he was ruminating over whether he should. I told him that he should give it a go and IIMA needed leaders like him. That evening, Labdhi described to me what he would be interested in doing if he took it up - he said he would want to take IIMA more international and get foreign faculty, etc.

We were together till around midnight. Next morning, I got a call from Rama Bijapurkar saying that the flight to Ahmedabad has crashed.

*Shyam Sunder was a colleague and friend of LRB and is currently Director at Magus Customer Dialog.

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