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Friday, 9 October 2009

Dr. Vasant Mote remembers....

In 1965, when I was the Chairman of the Post Graduate Programme of IIMA, a frail young student with a severe cold came to see me. Probably, he was late in joining the Programme and perhaps that was the reason he came to see me. That was my first introduction to Labdhi Bhandari. Little did I know then, the potential of this frail young student. He turned out to be among the best students that have studied in the Institute and a capable colleague. Coming with a B. A. degree he did not have facility with the technical aspects of Mathematics, a subject that I taught, but his Mathematical maturity was impressive. In the analysis of practical situations that we presented in the class, young Bhandari did a good job. His analysis was impressive even though the analysis required understanding of the ideas and tools of Mathematics.

After completing the two-year Post Graduate Programme in 1967, the young Bhandari joined Hindustan Lever and worked with the company until 1972. His love for academics made him give up his brilliant career with Hindustan Lever and join IIM-A as a member of the faculty. Looking at his potential, the Institute sponsored him for completing his PhD Programme. Bhandari’s dissertation won an “Honourable Mention” award in the American Marketing Association’s John Howard Dissertation Competition. After getting his PhD from the Columbia University, he rejoined IIMA’s Faculty.

When Labdhi left Hindustan Lever for pursuing an academic career, my senior colleague, Late Professor S. K. Bhattacharya, told me that Hindustan Lever rated Bhandari very highly. He said “If Labdhi had not left Hindustan Lever; he would have joined the company’s Board of Directors in a few years.” This remark shows how highly the industry rated him. It also shows Labdhi’s passion for academics.

Two cases he wrote about development and marketing of new products have now become classics. No teaching programme in marketing is complete without teaching these cases. Besides being an excellent case writer, he was an excellent teacher. Young students in the IIMA’s two year programme and the experienced executives in the Institute’s Management Development programmes, respected his deep insights in marketing and his skills in teaching.

LRB at a seminar at IIM, Ahmedabad (date unknown)

Labdhi, Professor A. K. Jain and I worked on a consulting project with Binny Ltd, a large textile company in Southern India. One dimension of the project was to chalk out a marketing strategy for Binny Ltd. In the course of our discussion I suggested a particular positioning for the company’s products. In my judgment, the positioning I had suggested suited the company’s personality. However, the advertising agency strongly disagreed with me. Labdhi came to my rescue. He articulated the idea so lucidly and convincingly that the Agency accepted the suggestion. Later, Labdhi and I had many arguments about the role of formal analysis in making marketing decisions. Labdhi always said, “Dr Mote, marketing executives of flesh and blood never act so rationally.” My argument was that we did not understand their rationale and therefore, probably, we think that the executives are not acting rationally. Unfortunately, his death deprived me of the opportunity to resolve the issue.

Cruelly, death cut short his brilliant career. We lost a valued colleague who was always so unassuming in spite of his achievements. The students lost an excellent teacher. The Bhagavadgita tells us "Just as a person casts off worn-out garments and puts on others that are new, even so does the embodied soul cast off worn out bodies and takes on others that are new." The eternal does not move from place to place but the embodied soul moves from one abode to another. Such thoughts are the only solace for his family and associates he left behind.

* Dr. Vasant Mote taught LRB at IIMA and was a senior colleage for 14 years. He retired from IIMA in 1993 and is now associated with Arvind Mills.

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