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Sunday, 12 April 2015

Shekhar Vyas remembers....

Back in the 1980s, I was a young entrepreneur and Labdhi Saab was my mentor. He was India's most sought after marketing consultant. He felt that even the best-designed research project can fail because of poor field execution. He also felt there was a strong need for a sales promotion company because none existed in the industry. So he advised me to position my company as specialist market research and sales promotion firm with excellent field strength. He was the one who named the company MRSP - Market Research and Sales Promotions.

We worked on many projects with him. Most of these projects were his consulting projects at IIM-A, but as and when required, he would use the services of outside agencies for his research or consulting work. We were one such agency. Shyam Sunder's company - Marketing and Business Associates (MBA) was another one. He also worked closely with many advertising agencies - especially Lintas, O&M, Trikya, etc.

One of the projects I worked on with him was for Enfield India, where he was on the Board of Directors. Enfield had tied up with (and later bought) a German company called Zundapp and they wanted to launch two Zundapp motorcycles in the Indian market - Silver Plus and Explorer. We worked on the sales promotion of these products. I remember he had also bought one bike - an Explorer - and he gave it to me to use for some time.

Another project where I worked closely with Labdhi Saab was a promotion with Doctors for Saffola Edible Oil for Marico (then Bombay Oil industries). Mr. Harsh Mariwala the CMD of Marico was closely associated with him. In fact, Labdhi Saab had suggested the idea for a television serial that they produced with Hema Malini, who then also endorsed their other product - Parachute Oil.

In Ahmedabad, we worked under his guidance for a project with Cadilla Pharma for the launch of a drug called Oriprim DS. The project involved doing one of India's first prescription audits. Mr. Pankaj Patel, who is now the CMD of Zydus Cadilla was in charge of the project at the time. Mr. Patel also attended a course on Product Policy and New Product Management that Labdhi Saab taught.

Then, there was the promotion of The Week magazine that was published by Malayalam Manorama, who he was advising. One Mr. Balakrishnan was involved from their side. Another unique project was the launch of Vital Soya flour for Britannia - for which we did a school promotion. Chitra Talwar, an IIM-A alumnus was involved from their side and Labdhi Saab worked closely with her. We also worked with him for Sony Corporation of Japan and Motorola of USA for their entry into Indian Market after imports were liberalized in the late 1980s by the Rajiv Gandhi government.

I had met him on his last day in Ahmedabad. It was a Sunday. He had called me in the afternoon and he told me that he had to leave for a trip to Pune to meet 'Dada' Kirloskar. Labdhi Saab was very stretched with work at the time and he did not want to make the trip, but Mr. Kirloskar had insisted - even offering to send his private plane to drop him back at Ahmedabad if he was tied up. We met at his place, then walked over to the Management Development Centre. I remember he took a peon to task that day because a portrait of Vikram Sarabhai, the founder of IIM-A had not been clean. I had asked him if he had met Dr. Sarabhai - he said he hadn't, but respected him a lot. He described him as a 'future scientist' and an institution builder rather than an atomic scientist. He asked me to ride with him to the airport so that we could continue our work in the car. Before he left for Pune he told me that he was expecting a letter offering him an appointment as Director of IIM Ahmedabad. I think his plan was to retire two years after he completed the term as Director.

The next day, he called me from Pune from the Bajaj Auto office and asked me if could meet a certain Mr. Bhargava some time in the week. Normally I never said no, but that day I requested him that we take a call after he returns to Ahmedabad. I was supposed to meet him on Tuesday evening. But, at 7 pm, his wife called me and told me that he would only return on Wednesday. It was never to be. His plane crashed the next morning.

*Shekhar Vyas was a friend and protege of LRB. 

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