Thursday, 23 October 2014

Aroon Joshi remembers...

I have very fond memories of Labdhi because of two encounters I had with him. He eluded me in one instance and I managed to get him in the other instance. 

My acquaintance with him goes back a long way. Back in 1967, I was the Chief Training Manager at Metal Box and I was responsible for recruiting management trainees, inducting them, etc. That year, I was interviewing candidates from IIM-Ahmedabad with another colleague and Labdhi, who was a student there, was one of the candidates. He was very young, but he was bright. He was very mature in terms of his answers and very forthright. At the interview he told us that he was looking for a consumer product company, but Metal Box is a great name so he would like to consider it. It took us just about 3 seconds after he left the room to decide and we offered him the job. He said, 'please give me some time', because he was also interviewing with Levers (Hindustan Lever). Now, we had a bit of a contest between me and Tarun Sheth, who was my contemporary at Levers, for attracting the best candidates. Tarun managed to swing Labdhi into Levers. I was quite certain that Labdhi was going to join Metal Box, but suddenly I heard from Tarun saying 'Hey, I got him, you lost him buddy!' 

Years later, in 1988, I was the Director of HR in Cadbury's India, reporting to my Managing Director. We were having marketing problems with some of our products, largely in the drinks area. We wanted to boost that part up and we also wanted to look at how we could introduce some new products that we had recently developed, but not yet branded. So between the Marketing Director, myself and the Managing Director we decided that we needed a consultant for marketing. The first name that came to my mind was Labdhi, because I had been after him for a long time. And therefore I spoke to him. I decided to pull his leg a bit by reminding of the time when he eluded me. I told him, 'Look you turned up your nose to industrial products and escaped me once. But we are an equally placed FMCG now, so don't say no!', and we both had a hearty laugh.

I was responsible for bringing him over, introducing him and then marketing took over. Vinita Bali, who was the General Manager - Marketing and was leading the project for Cadbury would have been the person he interacted with the most. But, I think, in total, we just had a total of one or two meetings for pinpointing the problem we wanted his help with. Unfortunately, his untimely death meant that he did not get to do anything more with Cadbury.

*Aroon Joshi is an HR professional with a long career spanning over 48 years. He was formerly the Director of HR at Cadbury's India.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Dr. NCB Nath remembers....

I first met Labdhi at Hindustan Lever when he joined as a management trainee in 1967, and I was the head of marketing for vegetable oils. One thing that was interesting about him was that he came from Hindi-medium schools. Normally, the trainees in these companies were from the English-educated lot and belonged to a particular social group. So, Labdhi was a different person compared to the others and when he joined, we were wondering how he would make his mark in the company, But, he did extremely well, and was very respected in his group. All the senior managers thought he was a very promising person. We were very surprised when he left Levers for his PhD and then became an academic at IIM-A. 

Later, I was a visiting faculty at IIM Ahmedabad, where Labdhi was a marketing Professor and we would meet regularly. And, for about two terms, they made me the Chair Professor in International Business at the institute. By this time I had joined as Director with Steel Authority of India and State Trading Corporation. I set up the first course in International Marketing in India and taught it for three years. After I left, Labdhi then took over the course, improved it and then taught it. I remember he met me somewhere and told me about the changes he had made. And I told him, 'you're doing a better job than I had done, so carry on'. 

Labdhi was a very friendly person and he had very few people who spoke ill of him. He was able to get along with a lot of people of different kinds. For instance, the IIM-A faculty consist of a lot of different kinds of characters. He was able to make friends with a lot of them and no one ever said anything against him. In Sanskrit there is a term that applies to him very well, he was "Ajatashatru" - one whose enemies are unborn. 

Labdhi was also a very humble person and didn't show off at all. Normally people who are bright, I think, talk too much about themselves. He came across as low-key, someone who knew his strengths but did not exhibit them. I remember one instance of this. Many years ago, we had a conference in Delhi, organized by the All India Management Association. I remember Ratan Tata was presiding over a meeting, where Labdhi made a very good point which has now become part of the marketing lore. He said that, in developing countries competition does not mean trying to win market-share. Instead, competition is about creating new areas of activity. People used to define competition as a fight for increasing market-share, something like between two armies. Labdhi said this does not apply to developing countries, because the level of consumption is very low. There is a much greater opportunity if you create new areas of marketing. This is called broadening marketing scope instead of fighting for market-share. Years later, this particular concept was articulated and popularized by Prof. Nirmalya Kumar in London as 'market-driving rather than market-driven strategies'. To the best of my knowledge, Labdhi was the first person to advance this thesis. I don't think many people picked it up, but I remember telling him that this is an excellent thought and you should develop it. I don't know if he wrote about it or not, but today it is accepted as a key theoretical idea in marketing strategy. By his nature, he never tried to sell himself, but if he was the pioneer of the concept, he should be recognized. Labdhi's point has stayed in my mind, and I always quote him whenever I talk about marketing strategy. 

*Dr. NCB Nath was a senior colleague of LRB at Hindustan Lever and IIM, Ahmedabad and has had a long career in business and management education. 

Saturday, 18 October 2014

A 1988 tribute to LRB by Jerry Rao

On the 3rd of November 1988, two weeks after LRB's untimely death in the crash of Indian Airlines Flight 113, a short tribute appeared in the Economic Times. It was penned Jerry Rao, who was then the country head of Citibank's consumer banking business. Not long ago, Rao had brought in LRB as a consultant to Citibank India to help them strategize their entry into the credit card business. Rao is a terrific writer, and his piece hits the perfect note. In three short paragraphs and barely 300 words, he manages to capture the poignancy of the moment, give a call to arms to management professionals everywhere, and tell us something tangible and insightful about LRB and his approach. The piece is reproduced below 

Economic Times, November 3, 1988. 

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Dr. V. Krishnamurthy remembers...

I met Labdhi on various occasions at IIM Ahmedabad during my tenure as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the institute. He struck me as an extremely bright, highly knowledgeable and committed young Professor. He was a man of few words but when he spoke, everyone listened. I found that even the senior faculty members had a lot of respect for him. There were many internal issues facing IIMA during that period and when I asked the faculty for suggestions, Labdhi often had some refreshing ideas to offer. He was very committed to IIMA and had big dreams for the institute.

In 1988, he, along with another Professor from IIMA (Prof. Mohan Kaul), coordinated the Roundtable on Public Enterprises for the Commonwealth Secretariat. The participants were policy makers and senior representatives from PSUs of various Commonwealth countries. The public sector in India was itself poised for a transformation as we had been talking to the Government about autonomy and accountability for PSUs. We had a lot to learn from countries like UK; at the same time, other Commonwealth countries were keen on knowing how PSUs like BHEL and Maruti had succeeded. I was keen on the right message getting across to such an eclectic audience. I had always considered Labdhi to be a Professor of Marketing but I was very impressed by his ability to look at the big picture, understand all stakeholder interests and analyse complex issues facing the public sector in a short period of time. He and Prof Kaul coordinated the Commonwealth Industries Minister’s conference remarkably well.

Later, I had the opportunity of discussing with Labdhi some of the problems we were grappling with, in SAIL. He was surprised that, despite working in a controlled and regulated market environment, we were putting in place a number of initiatives to make SAIL a customer-oriented organisation. I remember he came up with a number of suggestions that re-affirmed some of my own thoughts on strategies that SAIL needed to adopt.

It is indeed unfortunate that we lost him so early. He had the potential to take on much higher responsibilities at IIMA, besides becoming one of the top marketing strategists in the world. During my period of Chairmanship we had to select a new Director for the institute. Labdhi’s name came up very prominently both from the faculty and alumni for the position of Director of IIM Ahmedabad. Had he been there, I am sure he would have been chosen for this position. 

*Dr. V. Krishnamurthy is ex-Chairman and Managing Director of Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL), Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL), and was the founding Managing Director of Maruti Udyog Ltd. He also served as Chairman of the IIM-A Board of Governors from 1985 to 1990.