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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. 

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