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Wednesday, 5 March 2014

D. Ranganathan remembers...

Even after all these years, Labdhi's face came to me instantly - an unforgettable face, smiling, with a sparkle in the eyes - firm, but benevolent. I had the privilege of working with him, though only for a short period, when he was my boss in early 70s.

Let me first provide a brief background. At Hindustan Lever in 1970, Marketing Research (MR) was a part of the Management Services Group (MSG) consisting of Operations Research (OR),  Economics and Systems, all under Dr. VN Patankar. An expatriate, Alex Mitchell, came to Bombay as head of MR in 1970 and re-organised MR into two sub-groups - Client Services and Operations. He left after a year and Robert Tofts  succeeded him. Thus Mitchel gave structure to MR and Tofts imparted training on techniques evolved in the Marketing Division, London.

During Toft’s period Labdhi was appointed head of the Client Services group and four executives (myself being one) reported to Labdhi. We were all wondering why Labdhi agreed to  move to MR, because for any high-flier like him, such  a move away from a line management position would have been seen as a setback. Labdhi had a good, positive image and was considered a real future star at Levers. But we considered ourselves lucky to have such a brilliant person as our boss.

Labdhi was firm and ensured that correct MR practices were followed. In those days, the Marketing department assumed superiority and tried to enforce what they wanted. Therefore MR needed someone who could ensure that  MR was properly heard and accepted by marketing. Labdhi played this role.

I remember one story in particular. All market research projects should be initiated only after 'Action Standards' are specified by marketing. Action standards are very important, because they determine the criteria that are used to evaluate a product test and decide whether a product will be adopted or rejected. Unless a client specifies appropriate action standards before data from a product test is evaluated, the results can be interpreted in any way one wants.

On one occasion, in view of the urgency, a product test was initiated. The results came in and the marketing manager, Chakravarthy, asked me for a final recommendation. I refused to give out the results because they had not specified action standards. I stood firm and the marketing manager approached Labdhi, but he supported me and refused to reveal the results until marketing outlined the action standards. This action of Labdhi gave a clear signal to Marketing that MR will have the final word. This also ensured that in all future projects Action Standards were clearly specified before initiation.

The HLL Vice Chairman, David Webb, returned to London after his tenure was complete, but he later made one visit specifically to meet Labdhi which indicates the high regard  he had for him. Labdhi resigned from Hindustan Lever and moved back to IIM, Ahmedabad in January 1972 to take up an academic position. 

*Mr. D. Ranganathan was a colleague of LRB's at Hindustan Lever in the 1970s. 

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