Thursday 19 March 2009

Dr. V. Raghunathan remembers...

It is a privilege to be able to say that yes, I did know Prof. Labdhi Bhandari and knew him well.

Unfortunately, I can’t say I was a close friend, for the simple reason that when I first came to know him in early 1982 when I joined as a rookie Assistant professor in IIMA as a 26 year old, Labdhi (that’s how we all called him fondly) was already a celebrity Professor. Besides I was in finance while he was in Marketing. But yes, we were as close as a celebrity Professor and a rookie Assistant Professor coming from different disciplines could be professionally.

That he was fond of me was evident from the readiness with which he agreed to teach the entire marketing module when I was to coordinate my first MEP (Management Education Programme – a five month programme those days) in 1985. And, as the coordinator of the programme, I recall sitting through many of his classes and emerging with the experience that he was one who could teach ‘marketing like mathematics’! I have made that comment to many since then!

By that what I mean is, when Labdhi handled a case and proved why this distribution channel rather than that distribution channel was more appropriate for a certain product, it all sounded so logical as if it was Boolean algebra. And that’s not the feeling one gets when lesser experts treat the same subject. A hundred doubts come to mind as to why the distribution cannot be done differently and so on. Until I met Labdhi, to me marketing was largely a jargon-oriented mumbo-jumbo, where whatever you said could be defended! But not after those sessions I sat through! In short, his clarity, and approach was so elegant, simple and logical, that one felt one was truly studying something scientific – a tribute to the term management science.

I recall October 19, 1989 with profound sadness. I was returning from Chennai and when I landed at the A’bad Airport, the scene was completely chaotic as the crash had happened barely 60 minutes ago. Everybody was rushing out of the airport towards the accident site. I came across an old student who was the first one to tell me that Dr. Bhandari was on board, because he had seen the driver who had come to pick him up with his name placard. Those days were not the days of cell phones. I rushed to the campus, hoping against hope that Dr. Bhandari was not on that flight. But when I reached the campus, the unfortunate news turned out to be true, as the news had reached the campus by then.

I recall feeling a complete numbness; a complete sense of emptiness. That has, in some ways, been a vacuum difficult to fill. In some ways the vacuum still remains. He was the kind of person who would make anyone feel that he was his best friend! No wonder even I felt that way. He was a ‘management professor’ in its highest tradition.

In losing Labdhi, not only did all of us lose an outstanding colleague, but IIMA lost out on a potentially outstanding Director and the Indian Industry an outstanding marketing professional.

* Dr. V. Raghunathan was a colleague of LRB at IIMA and is now Chief Executive of the GMR Varalkshmi Foundation.

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