Monday 11 May 2009

Jerry Rao remembers...

I did not know Labdhi Bhandari at IIMA. I got to know him many years after I graduated from there.

In the late eighties, I was in charge of Citibank’s Consumer Business in India. We were planning on entering the Credit Card Business. I was looking for a good consultant to help us understand whether there was a real business proposition and as to how best we could grapple with it. I remember my conversation with Shyam Sunder (who was one year my senior at IIMA). I casually asked Shyam whether he knew a good person who could consult for us. Shyam’s response was instant and categorical: “Labdhi Bhandari is your best bet. The problem is that he may be busy”.

We managed to persuade Labdhi that our project was an interesting one and he made time for us. He got going right away. We jointly worked out our data requirements. In the next few weeks, we started getting him the data and he began his analysis in earnest. The project was a success in virtually every way. In retrospect it is so clear that Labdhi asked the right questions and his analytical insights were spot on. We launched into Credit Cards with far less trepidation than we would have otherwise; but I would add that we also went into it with realism, for instance knowing full well that large profits were not soon on the horizon.

In engaging with Labdhi through the project, what stood out was his soft personality, his razor-sharp and incisive mind, his willingness to separate tentative conclusions from firm ones and go in search of data to strengthen the tentative results and above all his characteristic ability to combine solid theoretical insights with practical business applications. I have worked with many consultants including quite a few from the best-known consulting firms in the world. Working with Labdhi beat all those experiences hands-down. The Citibank Credit Card Business in India went on to become a first mover, a pioneer and a market leader. We owed so much of it to Labdhi. And to think that he did not live to see it and share in our successes!

His tragic demise in a plane crash at a young age still has a searing impact on me. He was so full of promise. So many achievements were definitely on the anvil in the future. To be cut off so young, with so many prospects still ahead of him was terribly unfair. It was also a great loss to Indian business and to Indian Management education. The Greeks had a saying about the gods loving disproportionately those who die young. To my mind, that was small consolation for the loss that all of us suffered.

* Jaithrith (Jerry) Rao is an alumnus of IIMA and knew LRB while at Citibank in the late 80s. He later started MphasiS and served as the Chairman of NASSCOM.