Friday 30 January 2009

Ravi Miglani remembers...

I was a student of Prof. Bhandari from 1981 to 1983. I have since then been in a career relating to marketing and marketing research all these 25 years! Prof. Bhandari's passion for marketing was infectious - and I am still infected!

I share the views of all the others who have posted comments on your blog. Every time I am faced with a marketing/branding issue, I am bound to find some pearl of wisdom in the words of Prof. Bhandari that precisely addresses that issue. His cryptic yet profound quips are etched into my brain for life! One particular concept that keeps coming back to me is "don't just look for a gap in the market - look for a market in the gap!" When we used to look at brand mapping and those fancy maps showing how the various brands in the market were positioned - and where the white spaces were - we used to get very excited by a white space and claim there is a gap in the market: an opportunity to position a new brand in the gap. He cautioned us that when an obvious gap in the market looks to good to be true, it probably is. Not necessarily all gaps in the market are opportunities - there needs to be a market in that gap.

I will never forget that - helps me greatly when I am about to jump to conclusions in my market research presentations to my clients; I can still feel Prof. Bhandari whispering words of caution in my ears!

* Ravi Miglani was a student of LRB in 1981-83 and is currently CEO of Feedback Market Research, Egypt.

K. Raghuram remembers...

I do have a poignant memory to share. I chatted briefly with Prof. Bhandari in the Mumbai airport security area that fateful morning 20 years ago, just before the boarding announcements. He was catching the Ahmedabad flight at the same time that I was boarding the Pune one. My old “dry-mouth disease” from his classes promptly returned and we wouldn’t have progressed much beyond the “Hellos” were it not for my colleague, who being unaware of his reputation, waxed eloquent on some marketing topic. All I remember is that grin lighting up Prof. Bhandari’s face as he asked a couple of pointed questions. My colleague was saved by the boarding calls.

Two hours later, I sat stunned in the customer’s office in Pune listening to the news reports. The rest of the day was a blur. I remember getting to the hotel early in the evening to see the TV reports and praying that he had somehow survived, but it was not to be.

The one song that kept playing in my head the next few days was Billy Joel’s 1970s hit “Only the good die young”.

As painful as it may be for his children to know that there was so much to learn from their dad that they missed, they should know that he touched many lives, and that his spirit lives on in his work and the great memories he left behind. He was a Sanskrit scholar and am sure took the following verse from the Gita to heart:

Karmanya evadhikaraste ma phalesu kadacana
Ma karmaphalahetur bhur te sangostva akarmani

(You are entitled only to action, not to the fruits thereof
Think not of yourself as the creator of the fruit, nor attach yourself to inaction)

*Mr. K. Raghuram was a student of LRB at IIMA in 1980-82

Sanjay Agarwala remembers...

I was one of the lucky few who had the opportunity of being taught by Prof Bhandari in the 1982-84 batch of the PGP.

In addition to the regular course, I applied to do a Project course with him. Of the many applicants, again I was one of the 7 chosen to work under his guidance.

Right at the beginning of the session for the 7 of us, he asked what most students are most keen about…what grade do you want. All of us sheepishly said that we want an A. He smiled and said, "Ok, you all get an A. Unless you do things that force me to change this grade, you all can forget about the grade for this course. Now, can we focus on doing some real work?"

Under his guidance, Rajesh Mehta and I created a business plan for Garment Exports. It was very interesting to note that shortly thereafter, the Garment Export business boomed. His guidance was simple, pithy, and made us get out of the usual student psyche and look at the real world. Throughout the course he said that he is available to us for as long as we want, provided we had something sensible to discuss. This last bit, of demanding a 'sensible' discussion made us go over our thoughts over and over again before we asked for his time. And I must confess, that every time we met him, we came away exhilarated with the new direction he could give to our work.

I will forever be grateful for his guidance, and cherish the time we could spend with Prof Bhandari.

* Sanjay Agarwala was a student of LRB in 1982-84 and is currently the CEO of Eastern Software Systems Pvt. Ltd.

Tuesday 27 January 2009

Rajeev Gupta remembers...

Many of us carry in our heads to this day concepts learnt from 'LRB'. Among my several unforgettable lessons, one of them came to my use as late as three months back.

The case in the class was about a 2 wheeler company (which had Bajaj Auto written all over it) in our socialist years. The question posed was how the company should view the market for its products, and where the industry / own brand demands were headed and importantly whether the company should commit to a large capex expansion plan since recent years' sales of its products had shown extremely high growth rates. And there was the usual page fill about market research on product features liked / desired by the customers, data on previous ten years' sales by model, colour and the like, national income data for past years etc. And not to forget a 'honey trap' think aloud by the CEO about high operating leverage at the current scale.

I remember the case discussion was kicked off by one of our sincere classmates ('SC') who had run time series on demand data over varying past periods (which confirmed that growth rates were indeed accelerating), and had run a correlation with national income which (surprise, surprise) confirmed a correlation, and with the confidence of this analysis he went on to present his demand projection for next nine years (a momentum forecast which took off from the recent high sales growth). He would probably have continued his magnum opus by stating that the company should indeed be thinking of expanding but at this point he happened to notice a smile beginning to form on LRB's face and that rare occurrence froze him…

LRB (now with a full smile): Can you tell me the demand for this company's products in 2000?

SC (shuffling his notes): Sir I…. did not project that far since the expansion will probably pay off in nine to ten years.

LRB: Right. And what do you think you have projected? Sales or Demand?

SC (beginning to get nervous): Sir, sales results from demand and so my projections are demand.

LRB (full smile continuing): and why cant sales result from…… supply?

SC: uh..uh.. uh… supply equals demand. But…….(sigh sigh)

Three slow nods of the head came from the SC. The lesson was clear… in a product shortage scenario, do sales reflect supply or demand?

We recently looked at a voluminous presentation from a large international investment bank on the Indian power generation sector which gave demand projections based on past data of energy sales. Reading it, I was reminded of the lesson from LRB. Clearly the bankers had not had the privilege of going to his class!!

LRB left indelible marks on all of us who had the privilege of being in classes given by him

* Rajeev Gupta was a student of LRB in 1980-82 and is currently the Managing Director of The Carlyle Group.

R. Raghavendra Ravi remembers...

I clearly and fondly remember a few incidents from the classroom. Prof Bhandari's class was one of the first classes for our batch at IIMA - I do not know whether it was the 'high standard' of IIMA or Prof Bhandari's sharpness which made his classes electric.

I remember my first brush with him - Case: Vora & Co.

Labdhi says - "So?"

One of my first classes at IIMA - I'm very eager to speak - I put up my hand.

Labdhi: "Yes"
I say: "The product does not have an identity."
Labdhi:"You mean it is not carrying an identity card?"

I'm stumped - did not know what to say - quickly withdrew. Many others were putting up their hands and were quickly making a fool of themselves. Slowly, after about 15 minutes it dawned on me that you have to be responsible for what you are saying and you have to defend it. LESSON 1 at IIMA.

One of the later classes - just a few days later - some students had gone and told Labdhi "we are not able to figure these cases out and how to study them" - Labdhi realised that some of us were panic stricken. He came to the class and spent 5 minutes telling us that we were not dumb. It requires some practice and the facility of looking at cases will improve.

LRB in an IIM-A classroom
What I remember him most for is a very sharp analytical mind (which I have seen in many people) but combined with a great ability to synthesize a solution or an approach by the time the class ended. The last 20 minutes of the class would be a Labdhi presentation on what he thought would be a possible solution (very carefully argued). I learnt that 'Analysis' is something very many people can do - but 'Synthesis' requires a wise and careful mind. LESSON 2 at IIMA.

His questioning was Socratic. It quickly led us to what he wanted us to learn. Some times the questions were sharp to the point of hurting - but the intent was clearly to focus the class on what had to be learnt.

I still remember my classmate Naseer Ahmed Usmani starting the class on Ahmedabad Textile Mills:

Naseer: "This company has too many products"
Labdhi: "How many??"
Naseer: "300"
Labdhi: "Why is 300 too many?? Is anything above 299 too many??"

A minute of silence - then Labdhi asks:

"What is a product in a textile mill? How many colours do you know? How many types of cloth - cottons, synthetics, blends? How many designs do you know of? So how many "products" are possible?"

We came up with thousands of possible "products". Suddenly 300 products started looking too few!!

I thought - what a grand approach. But I thought too soon.

Labdhi asks: "By the way - how big was this company?"

None of us reacted. We were all on the defensive. So Labdhi continues:

"Has anybody studied the Annual report in the case?"

Then we suddenly realize that just because its a Marketing Case does not mean we should neglect the "Annual Report"!! We quickly check the figures.

"Rs. 16.70 crores" somebody says.
Labdhi: "Which year was it?"
"1967" the answer

Labdhi finally sums up:

"1967....about 17 crore company....300 varieties of cloth.. is it too many?"

Now we get the idea - look at the totality and do not jump from one piece of data.

On that fateful day when his plane crashed, I was watching a cricket match and TV channels broke the news - I lost Prof Labdi Bhandari and another friend of mine V Mukundan (who used to work for Alfa Laval) who was on the same flight. To this day, I quote Prof Labdi Bhandari on various occasions.

* R. Raghavendra Ravi was a student of LRB between 1980-1982.

Friday 23 January 2009

Rajiv Gulati remembers...

Marketing was my passion, and I was fortunate to have Prof. Labdhi Bhandari as the professor for not one, not two, but three of the credits that I took. He is about the only prof. about whom there has been such unanimity of opinion. All of us probably had same words for him, like 'Brilliant'. I remember, when I was in final year, one of the Juniors asked me 'How are Prof labdhi's sessions?' My answer, which he quoted for several days, was 'Orgasmic'.

He was brief in his comments, and extremely sarcastic. The net reult was the most effective communication of marketing concepts I have ever seen in my life.

Once he was teaching us about short-term increases in sales of washing powder by adding deals such as a free 'bucket' .. and one of our brilliant batch-mates was bright enough to suggest that 'Surf' (the brand under threat) should give something bigger..

"Like? A 'bathroom' for instance?" was Prof. Bhandari's response ... how can one forget that Surf lost 'market share' but not sales ... since market was artificially high for a short period due to the 'deals' of the competitor.

And another time we had gone to him for a project and I was especially pleased about my research since I had actually read a lot and had referenced relevant papers. As we started talking and I mentioned one publication which I had found with great difficulty and was so two sentences he summarised the whole paper which he totally remembered ...

Genius I tell you ...

When his plane crashed, one of my Juniors in the company - an MBA from FMS, Delhi University - was the one to tell me about it. It is unusual for an MBA of one university to know about the professors from another. However, his comment to me was that he has lots of friends from IIM-A and he was shocked at the depth of sadness among each and every one of them.

As I started my career in marketing, I would always think .. what would he have said ...for every difficult situation that I encountered.

I love teaching ... its a hobby. Fortunately wherever I worked (Ranbaxy/Lilly), I was allowed to teach. I have delivered guest lectures at IIM, IIFT, GSB-Chicago, Richard Ivey Business School, Canada, Kelley School of Business at IU and also Wharton.

However, the first time I really started teaching was at IMT, Ghaziabad ... the marketing professor asked me to teach a whole semester to final year MBA students. The first thing I realized was that they did not even have 'Brand Management' as a subject.

I created the curriculum, taught two semesters (many of my students are CEOs today) and than handed over the developed course to my successor.

Guess who taught me Brand Management at IIM-A - Prof Labdhi Bhandari.

Guess whose teachings I shared with my students - Prof Labdhi Bhandari

Guess who was I trying to emulate while teaching - Prof Labdhi Bhandari

Just an example to say that his influence, his legacy, his memory goes way beyond than the people he directly touched.

And then ... several years after he passed away ... I think it was in 1997 ,,. I was working in the US Us at that time too, and at a friend's house I met the professor's younger brother .. and as I learnt that he was Prof Bhandari's brother, it was impossible for me to stop talking about him. As I started, he turned to his wife and said,"I always told you how much his students respected him. Here's a living proof."

*Rajiv Gulati was a student of LRB in 1980-82 and is currently Director of Global counterfeiting operations at Eli Lilly and Co.