Wednesday 11 March 2009

Sunil Gulati remembers...

Unlike most of the bloggers here, Marketing was not my forte and I tried to minimize the number of Marketing courses I did. Probably the only reason I regret this is that I would have got to know Labdhi a lot better than I did as the memory of him as a Prof is one of the better etched memories that have survived the quarter century since. What really struck me about Labdhi was that he had an uncanny ability to cut through the 'crap' and have an insight into the 1 or 2 issues that really mattered in any case or other discussion. In the marketing arena in particular this was unique given the inherent fuzziness of most topics. This was completely refreshing and pushed the entire class into their 'stretch' or sometimes 'panic' zones as the class knew that they had to develop similar insights to be appreciated by Labdhi and that mere CP would get them into trouble!

A specific case that I remember is about a ball bearing manufacturer. The problem was to devise segmentation strategies for the company. There was an infinite amount of discussion in the class along segmenting the market by all the obvious variables - size, end use industry, type of distribution channel etc. I guess all these are relevant variables but Labdhi really kept pushing the class by saying "does it really matter" or the more laconic "so?". Towards the end, he asked the class as to why we were doing segmentation and what was the end goal. Again he provided the simple answer - to ensure that sales could go up by the minimum amount of effort. In keeping with this line of thinking he provided an insight into segmentation in this case by asking the question as to what is the variable that really determines who are users of ball bearings? Though the class has a lot of engineers, nobody had thought about the fact that ball bearings need to be replaced in a bearing at fixed intervals every time they are serviced, and hence the most useful way of segmenting the market would be by time elapsed since the manufacture date/ last service date. This was like "Eureka"....simple, yet so powerful a concept and entirely practical and executable....which, as I have learnt over the years, has to be the touch point of any strategic thought process.

I think this incident illustrates the man that Prof. Bhandari was - simple, brilliant but without pretensions but at the same time confident in his own brilliance, and wanting to see the best come out in others!

*Sunil Gulati was a student of LRB and is currently Group President and Head - Risk Management and Corporate Development at YES Bank.

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