Thursday 22 October 2009

MV Subbiah remembers...

My brother, MV Arunachalam, worked on the board of IIM, Ahmedabad and he knew Labdhi; and I knew Labdhi because of my meetings with Vasant Mote and others during their management development programmes. When we took over EID Parry, the question of the board constitution came up. There was lots of turnaround work involved. So, at that time we thought we should have at least one academic person. And we knew Labdhi well enough to ask him and he was kind enough to accept. And that is how Labdhi came onto the board of EID Parry sometime in 1984.

The others on the Board consisted mainly of older people; N Ramanand Rao of State Bank of India, Mr. PK Choksey, etc. Labdhi was one of the young people on the board. But he was most accepted and respected. He didn’t say too much, most often, but when he said something everybody listened to him. This was my impression. I used to attend once in a while. I came into the board a little later. 1988 was going to be our 200th year and so, we said that we must celebrate it well by turning around the company by then and doing a good job.

A meeting of the board of directors of EID Parry on it’s 200th anniversary in 1988. Mr. Subbiah remembers LRB (2nd from left on the far side) joking that he was probably smelling of naphthalene balls, because he rarely wore suits at meetings

He helped us, mainly, by looking at strategic issues - we were so diversified at that time, there was lot of trading and manufacturing was all fairly old. Not much of investment was going into manufacture. So, he said, we can’t continue to be this old ‘trading house’. Look at the possibility of focusing a little bit more. And also, regularly investing in plant and equipment. We realized that the last capital expenditure had been done in 1972…after that we hadn't any money to invest! So, that’s how he was quite instrumental in helping us understand that we needed to keep reinvesting in capital equipment and there were businesses we had to try and get out of. These are some very basic issues it might seem today. But, at that point of time, in that company, it made a huge difference.

As I said, he didn’t say very much. But, when it came to these kinds of issues relating to strategies and investment, he always had some specific comment to make which was very, very useful. With his unique background in academics, he was able to foresee some things that companies like ours just didn’t do, at least not at that time. Now, it might be regular run-of-the-mill, but at that time that didn’t happen. So, that was his main contribution,

When we went to IDBI for our financing, the first thing they would say would be that we want plans, we want projections and that sort of thing. The fact that we had somebody like Labdhi and some of the others on the Board made a difference. IDBI was willing to support us even without those plans and projections. So, there was a lot of credibility in his being there.

He was very soft spoken. Even in the Board he rarely spoke, but every time he opened his mouth everybody would listen very carefully. Very, very soft spoken and very, very warm person, as far as I was concerned. I mean, I used to know Vasant Mote, and Labdhi was quite the opposite. He was very quiet and would listen to everything. But, when he had to say something, he would wait till he got the eye of the chairman, and just say a few things. And normally, my recollection is, if he asked us a couple of questions, for us to find the answers it would take us take the next few days – like on capital expenditure. If he asked a question, by and large, we knew that we wouldn’t have the answer. And, I don’t remember correctly and there’s nobody around from those days to confirm, but I think we just had to drop a couple of things because we couldn’t find the data. Certainly, getting an answer to his questions was not easy.

* MV Subbiah was Chairman of the Murugappa group that owns EID Parry. LRB was on the board of EID Parry between 1984 and 1988. The  memories above were related to Ms. Vijalakshmi Rao who spoke to Mr. Subbiah in Chennai. 

Tuesday 13 October 2009

A 1985 interview with LRB....

This interview was conducted by a group of participants of the Management Development Programme in 1985 for the farewell issue of 'weekly jargon', their newsletter. This interview was conducted by Aradhana Chinubhai, Bala , Praveen Aggarwal, and Arun Bakliwal.

The goodbye jargon has an interview with Prof. Bhandari. All of us agree that he is a truly amazing man, to have achieved so much at so young an age. What really endeared him to those of us who interviewed him was the deep concern he has for the nation. India being classified as a developing (or under-developing) country seems to have wounded his pride. And the best part is that he is doing something about it. Like perhaps our new Prime Minister, though Prof. Bhandari doesn't think that all that the new Prime Minister does is good for the country. We are proud of having been associated with you, sir.   

WJ: Could you tell us something about your early life?

LRB: For the last nearly 20 years, I have been associated with this institute (IIMA). I came here as student in 1965; I joined as a PGP. Before that, I studied in Jodhpur for my graduation. Did my bachelor’s degree in the humanities. After my PGP, I worked in Hindustan Lever for 5 years. Then, I decided to go back to school. I spent 6 months at the institute before going to the United States for my Ph.D. Returned in 1976 and have been here ever since.

WJ: What made you leave Levers?

LRB: I didn’t leave to leave Levers. I left to go back to school and do my doctoral studies. I was interested in doing my doctoral studies even when I was a student here. The Institute was also keen that I pursue academics. I joined Levers only to get some experience in the real world. I would have worked there a year or two more, but they were planning to send me abroad for 2 years to work in their parent company in the United Kingdom. Then I would have been morally obliged to work with them for some more time. I would not then have been able to pursue my doctoral studies. I used that opportunity to make my decision.

WJ: Which University was this?

LRB: I studied at Columbia University, New York City at the Management school.

WJ: What was the subject of your thesis?

LRB: I wrote my doctorate in Social Marketing. In the American Universities, this is only a small part of doctoral study unlike here and in Britain. It was a good experience. The management field had been growing quite fast in those years. Development was so fast that in the 5 years I was at HLL, things had so much that it was well worth going through the courses again. Updating oneself all over again. I wouldn’t mind going to school once again, even now.

WJ: This is a question we are fond of asking. Is there a difference in teaching style when you were a student and now in the last 2-3 years?

LRB: It’s a little difficult to answer that. Many of us now see only a small part of what goes on. And that too only what we do. Perhaps a student would be able to answer that better. I can only give you my experience. There is a difference, certainly. The difference is primarily in the change in the mix of methods. In early years, the Institute believed in the case method so much that there were absolutely no lectures by faculty. Even Accounting and Economics were taught by the case method. That obviously has changed over the years. There is a fair mix of methodology now. Also, the diversity of the faculty in terms of their own training and their own orientation reflects itself in the teaching styles. Even the treatment of the case method is not as uniform as it used to be. In the early years, the entire faculty had gone through a kind of training at Harvard Business School and all of them had gone through the training within the same 2-3 year period. So, all of them had been painted in the same colours and all practiced the same ethos. That way, things are different. There is diversity.

WJ: Why did you choose marketing as your special subject?

LRB: It was a combination of things. The choice was made when I graduated from here and started working. At that time, I seriously considered two options – Marketing and Personnel. I did not consider two other areas in which I was greatly interested, namely Manufacturing and Finance. I ruled out those two because when one is looking at a career in business or industry, I figured that the fact that I am neither an engineer nor an accountant by training would come in the way of my career growth in the long run. I was quite interested in the Personnel area. Again, it was a combination of things that drove the final choice. I felt that the Marketing field provided more challenges for the practicing manger. It was also partly influenced by the organisation I chose to work in. The final choice was between two companies – Hindustan Lever and Metal Box. Metal Box was quite keen that I join the Personnel stream and Levers was quite keen that I join the Marketing stream. Basically, I made my choice of the organisation and the stream followed. Having spent 5 years as a practising manager, I chose to do my PhD in that field. Not a very rational way of making a decision, I admit.

WJ: Being amongst the first few MBA’s in the country, was there any resistance when you joined the company?

LRB: Yes, there was severe resistance. There were resistance on two counts. First, they felt that we (MBAs), may pose a threat in the future to the non-MBAs, especially the younger people. Secondly, with the MBA entry there was a possibility of a cultural change in the kind of people who belonged to the so-called covenanted management group. Earlier, they used to recruit people to the covenanted cadre from Universities that belonged to the establishment. A lot of the Oxbridge type. A fair amount of St. Stephen’s, St. Xavier’s and Loyola College, Madras. But preponderantly Oxbridge and St. Stephens. Surprisingly, there were hardly any American MBA’s – Indians educated in the USA. England, of course, did not have any management schools then. They are quite backward in this. Their schools are hardly 10 years old. Outside the US and Canada, India was perhaps the first country to launch formal management education. So, there was this cultural change of people like me who did not have any convent school background entering the portals of a company like Hindustan Lever. This was the cause of the resistance.

WJ: What was the kind of the resistance you encountered?

LRB: It reflected initially more in terms of social resistance than work related. I don’t think it made much of a difference. Because the induction of MBA’s into Levers was done with the support of top management. The chairman of Levers was then also the chairman of IIMA. So everybody in the company knew that these people are coming with the support of top management. The resistance disappeared because the others found that the MBA’s talked the language of business and knew more about the other functions. In marketing, most people could not read the Balance sheet.

WJ: You experienced both teaching and a career in industry. Which do you prefer?

LRB: Both.

WJ: Why?

LRB: First of all, I like the diversity of work that such a combination offers. Secondly, I do not much like the routine administrative part of a practising manager’s job which is very important and if not well attended, the whole thing can go for a six. I don’t like that and I am not good at it. I can mess up a manager’s job fairly well as I lose interest in the follow up. But, I like the challenge of problem solving. Looking at problems, opportunities and so on. Teaching provides an opportunity to conceptualise some of these things, an opportunity to ride one’s hobby horse.

There is a very interesting pattern that I have observed. A lot of people who are supposedly good end up being good in their own field because they are able to establish a link between some other field and their own field. The inputs they bring from the other area often end up making them distinctive and perceived as more effective in their own field. If you have diverse interests and experiences, then it is possible for you to bring one into the other. You can be perceived as a good teacher because you bring the realities of life into teaching and to be perceived as a good manager or advisor because you are able to bring the ability to conceptualise from the academic field. This is truer in an applied field like marketing than say economics. It gives you an opportunity to learn at somebody else’s cost.

WJ: What companies come to you for advice? What are they really looking for?

LRB: I really don’t know (laughs). I wish they knew. Most of the time, I think they are not very clear. There are, I suppose, many diverse reasons. In my case, at least, I have found that most of them come not because they need any highly specialised kind of advice, like something they don’t know or cannot learn, and therefore have to come to a specialist.  Most of them come because they get tied down in a maze of issues, problems, considerations, and contextual concerns and cannot see through the problem clearly, and more importantly when they see through the problem what direction to seek. I think a major contribution that an advisor makes is that he or she is able to see things in a detached, dispassionate manner and provides clarity to the situation. And when one works in a variety of industries and situations, one’s ability to be an advisor also improves considerably.

WJ: Could you tell us something about your most outstanding assignment as an advisor? The one you liked the most?

LRB: One association, which has been particularly satisfying, is my association with Enfield, which is quite old now. Nearly 7 years now. This was a company in the dumps, shut down for quite some time, with massive accumulated losses. When the company was being reopened sometime in 1977-78, I joined the Board at the request of the Chairman of the company. I got deeply interested because the company was in deep trouble. They had wiped out their capital base 3 times over. This association has been a close one.

There was very little of marketing related inputs but it has been an overall corporate management advisory type of a role. We faced many crucial decisions that could make or mar the company. Fortunately, within 3 years, we could wipe out all the losses of the company and create surpluses. By this summer, I think the company’s reserves and surpluses would exceed 10 crores after wiping out all the earlier losses. Of which about Rs. 80 lakhs have been fresh issues and the rest internal generation. The company is now rapidly moving into a growth stage. They have already invested Rs. 30 crores in an expansion project with which I have been closely associated. A very satisfying experience.

WJ: What has been the nature of your contributions?

LRB: Very difficult to say. You could say that I was a sounding board for the company management for all decisions of a crucial nature. I served as a source for providing directions for some of the areas, which turned out to be critical for the company. I had also something to do with the culture of the company. When they reopened I had very little to contribute as regards the culture point of view, as they had already appointed people. They had a bunch of retired army people manning important functions of the company. They did a good job, I should say, putting the company back on the rails. But, it was pretty clear that this culture will not bring in future growth and will not be able to look at opportunities and tap them and will not be able to provide the cerebral inputs which a company needs in terms of strategy. In fact, in the last 7 years, the company has gone through a complete change twice over in terms of the type of people and the culture that existed. It was a family managed company earlier. There was this transition to the army culture and later to a very professional one. Now, professional management graduates handle all the important functions. People are very free and they frequently disagree with the Chairman and Managing Director, who is also the owner.

WJ: Do you do any international consultancy?

LRB: My international consultancy work has been of three kinds. I have worked at different times with international agencies on assignments in social marketing such as population, family planning; with international consultancies in management, training and development; and helping the other countries work out their strategies and programs. I am currently working for the Govt. of India on an international assignment for formulating and partly implementing an international strategy for marketing Indian tea. I have also done some work with some companies abroad earlier. While I was in New York as a student, I had done some work there. More to keep body and soul together.

WJ: What do you think is the state of professional management in India?

LRB: In terms of the totality of managers, the gap between those who have inputs to manage in a professional manner and those who have not is quite large. In terms of competence, by and large, the Indian manager is a very able manager. In that, he has a great deal of innate qualities – ie he is intelligent, committed to the job, etc. He has the individual abilities but come out low on effectiveness. There are two or three reasons for that. One is that, in our society on the whole and in our large systems like Govt., bureaucracy, etc. reward systems have always been and continue to be associated with ability rather than performance. We reward a person because he knows, not because he applies his knowledge, not because he has done good for the organisation. Our reward/punishment has not grown out of the school system. The emphasis is based on habits, abilities. They are required, but what happens is that the application of these to meeting an objective gets ignored. We also suffer from having a functional perspective as a nation and particularly as managers. The largest system, the Central Govt. is organised functionally and sectorally; ministry of this and that. The ability to work together suffers as a result. The health ministry will plan for something somewhere and the education ministry will plan for something elsewhere. Eventually, the people who are going to get the benefits (or not get the benefits) are individual entities – families or villages. The integration will have to be done by those entities. So is the case with the companies. Except the Finance director, nobody will know the cost of production of the company’s product. Even the Managing Director is not sure he knows. Thus the whole system becomes ineffective. I suspect it is the British who are to blame for this. Functions begin to operate as castes. They don’t function together. They are individual oriented and not task oriented. The Indian Manager suffers from some of these problems as well. That is why Indian Managers abroad come out extremely well.

WJ: What do you think of the Japanese Industry?

LRB: The Japanese industry has to be seen in the broader content of their society, tasks and ethos. I believe they are industrially successful because the nation as a whole made a conscious decision and backed it up with policy and action. In India, for various reasons, business is looked down upon. The Japanese also looked down upon business once upon a time. In the hierarchy of things, mercantile activities were something for lesser beings in society. The more honourable tasks were administering the economy and defending the nation. The sword was the symbol of respect. The Second World War changed that. After the surrender of the Japanese, and the explicit ban on the Japanese raising an army, resulted in a structural change.

Being the proud nation that they are, and to win back their pride and teach the world a lesson (which they have been doing for hundreds of years), they were looking for another way of conquering the world. And in this half of the twentieth century, what else was more appropriate than the economic way. This was manifest in the way the post war children in Japan were brought up and how the families defined the priorities for their children. If a man came back home at 6.00 pm, he will be given a dressing down by his wife, his mother because he is supposed to be doing his best so that his company succeeds. If he comes back early, he is certainly not doing his best. The labour union was also not asking for a larger share of a smaller cake. They were working to make the cake bigger so that they get a larger share in absolute terms. It is this that underlies the success of the Japanese industry. The Japanese system of decision-making or the Kanban system of assembly line operations – the contribution was there but it was only marginal. Also, they had a much clearer vision of world industrial trends. They chose as a country, not as individual companies, priority industries and said we will be number one. They tailored everything accordingly – financial policies, government policies, etc. to ensure success. That worked. They are now pulling out of industries, which are declining. And very methodically. The resulting unemployment problem is being solved by re-training. The unions are co-operating in finding ways and means in rehabilitating people. Like in steel. They have decided to reduce capacity by half because steel is a declining industry. They are concentrating on new growth areas. That is the national ethos. If India were to do this, I am sure we can succeed too. We have the basic resources. What we don’t have is the commitment. And more than that the clarity of vision of what we would be doing.

WJ: You had earlier said that India has a very sectoral type of government organisation, which is hampering growth and effectiveness. What is your alternate recommendation?

LRB: Let’s not get into that. I don’t think I have enough knowledge or experience to recommend alternate forms of government. But, I think it is possible for somebody else to work that out. What I was trying to say was that functional approach limits the understanding of one’s role. This may come in the way of effectiveness of doing performing one’s role, one’s perspective.

WJ: How would you put the present trend in policies and their impact on Indian Industries?

LRB: It is too soon to say anything. My own assessment is if the present policies continue, the Indian industry is in for a great deal of trouble. This may be contrary to what some of you may be thinking. It is for the good of the industry but not immediately. The trend seems to be for a much rougher competition for industry. Most of our industries are not equipped to cope with this kind of competition. But in the end whatever will be left will be efficient. It is like taking plants that have been growing in a hot house and putting them outside in the open.

WJ: How long will this period of transition be?

LRB: It will take about a decade, I think.

WJ: If we want to survive in the international market we have to tone ourselves up. Isn’t it better now than later? Now we are not at all that industrialised?

LRB: True. It’s got to be done. But some amount of selectivity may also be desired. To cope with the turbulence in the government may also be an issue. If the turbulence is too much, the government may not survive.

WJ: Would you recommend an open economy?

LRB: I wouldn’t.

WJ: What would you recommend for basic growth?

LRB: You would need several things. I am not competent to talk about all that.  About Industrial policy, I would recommend that we need clarity on what we ought to pursue in which we will excel and be internationally competitive (I), what we pursue in order to meet our own needs reasonably satisfactorily but not be internationally competitive (II), and what we need to pursue in what will make do (III). Ideally there should be nothing in that last category. We need a dynamic policy, which, over a period of time, redefines all these things. Hopefully, we would move more from III to II to I over a period of time. There is not a single area where we operate where the focus is in the international arena, where we are a force to be reckoned with. Where we should be a force to be reckoned with because of our large consumption and trade, we get the least from our share in value. For example, take the price of tea a consumer around the world pays and the kind of prices we realise for the tea we sell. We don’t realise even a fraction of the retail price. So where we have strengths, we have messed it up. We are trying to sell our engineering goods on a marginal basis. We are neither organised technology wise, manufacturing system wise or marketing wise, to be a force in any of these areas. We have to make up our mind. Our entire planning is domestic oriented, a closed world system. If we open up the whole system we will sink. So we have to do it selectively. We need clarity on this mix and a time horizon perspective. Take two wheelers for example. There is no earthly reason why India could not have made two wheelers. We have such a large domestic market that we could have used the opportunity to set up capacities, technologies which could supply the world’s need of two wheelers. We have always put on blinkers. Said that the country needs only this much. And then there is this brahmanical perception of all of us. So-called intellectuals who are in the decision making levels who decide India may need so much but we should have only this much. That some item is a luxury good and the country cannot afford business. We individually can afford and would like to have them, but the country cannot afford them. This makes it less and less affordable for the country. In anything we have done, we are pygmies.

WJ: Is the planned economy responsible for all these things?

LRB: It is not the planned economy but the concept or kind of planning. I think it is the value system of our economists. There is very little technical in these things. Everything has got preferences associated with it. The western educated, alienated Indian’s perception has crept into the bureaucrats, the economists, the professionals. All of us. We don’t think India as us. We think of India as millions of poor people living in thousands of villages and impose our values on what they should have should not have. What they can afford and cannot afford. A very schizophrenic approach and all these economists educated at Cambridge with their Fabian Socialism have reflected their split personalities. They have looked at India as an entity alien to themselves, looked at it as a poor third world country which has only to slowly make its way.

WJ: Is it because the politician has abrogated his right of decision making to the bureaucrat?

LRB: Partly, yes. We couldn’t say that for the first 15 to 20 years. Then even the politician thought like that. He was the very epitome of a schizophrenic, he felt for the country but he was not part of it. Look at the difference between India and China. Mao lived literally as a Chinese peasant. So his perceptions, his priorities were very different from that of Indian leaders. Pandit Nehru was a do-gooder white man. He was like a missionary. He didn’t belong here, but he had a tremendous zeal for uplifting the poor. But you cannot then cross the line and think and feel like what the majority of the people – their priorities, etc. We have not yet thrown up a leader like that, from that background and culture. That way the politicians are as much responsible.

WJ: Could you tell us something about your other interests in life? Reading, writings, etc.

LRB: My other interests are not very powerful and I have not been able to pursue them. My primary interest is centred on the management movement. In the earlier days I used to write something, a bit of poetry. I used to read literature – poetry mainly. I was also interested in the theatre – the stage. But living in Ahmedabad I have not been able to develop much interest in the Gujarat stage.

Travel is another hobby. Travel and tourism. I have travelled quite widely. Within India and outside. Experiencing people. Eating what they eat. I have travelled in Africa, Europe, North America and other Asian countries. The most important learning has been tolerance. Like I started eating non-vegetarian food. Earlier, I found it even difficult to smile at somebody who ate meat. I also take a great deal of interest in social and organisational systems wherever I go. It is very interesting to find out how others live.

Monday 12 October 2009

Prof. S. Manikutty remembers...

Prof. Labdhi Bhandari (we could call him Labdhi only much later) was our introduction to the Institute. Before the commencement of regular classes, there was (and still is) a session called “Introduction to the Case Method”. Labdhi took that session for our section. He started right away, asking, “So, what should Mr. Shah do?”. One of our class fellows asked him to “say something about yourself”. “My name is Bhandari. I teach here. Anything else you want to know?” That was the end of the conversation. The rest of the class was mostly silence, with an occasional “So?” from Labdhi. He seemed indeed formidable, more than what we bargained for.

We did not see him again until the second term of the second year, when he offered the PPM (Product Policy and Management) course. Most of the class took it, I suppose more to just experience Labdhi than to really learn about product policy or its management. It was not an effort wasted. Such was the clarity of the insights he brought into the class, that almost everyone actually took interest in the course! But he was still formidable. Absolutely a no nonsense type.

It was only when I came to the thesis phase and he agreed to be a member of my thesis committee, that I began to see what a truly wonderful person he was. His brilliant mind cut through a whole lot of cobwebs and got straight to the point. One always came out of meetings with him with an exhilarating sense that something has been truly achieved, truly understood. More than that, as a thesis committee member, he was truly warm in his dealings. As the thesis progressed, he became more and more friendly, always willing to give his time and always helpful with his insights. He was always encouraging, and never once did he say a word that would discourage me. Yet, it was always a clear pointing out of the deficiencies in my thought and argument. 
Shortly after my graduation, I went to Jordan on a posting for an year and there it was that I learned of the shocking news. For quite some time, his smiling but stern face kept haunting me.

*Prof. S. Manikutty was a student of LRB and is now Professor of Business policy at IIM, Ahmedabad.

Friday 9 October 2009

Dr. Vasant Mote remembers....

In 1965, when I was the Chairman of the Post Graduate Programme of IIMA, a frail young student with a severe cold came to see me. Probably, he was late in joining the Programme and perhaps that was the reason he came to see me. That was my first introduction to Labdhi Bhandari. Little did I know then, the potential of this frail young student. He turned out to be among the best students that have studied in the Institute and a capable colleague. Coming with a B. A. degree he did not have facility with the technical aspects of Mathematics, a subject that I taught, but his Mathematical maturity was impressive. In the analysis of practical situations that we presented in the class, young Bhandari did a good job. His analysis was impressive even though the analysis required understanding of the ideas and tools of Mathematics.

After completing the two-year Post Graduate Programme in 1967, the young Bhandari joined Hindustan Lever and worked with the company until 1972. His love for academics made him give up his brilliant career with Hindustan Lever and join IIM-A as a member of the faculty. Looking at his potential, the Institute sponsored him for completing his PhD Programme. Bhandari’s dissertation won an “Honourable Mention” award in the American Marketing Association’s John Howard Dissertation Competition. After getting his PhD from the Columbia University, he rejoined IIMA’s Faculty.

When Labdhi left Hindustan Lever for pursuing an academic career, my senior colleague, Late Professor S. K. Bhattacharya, told me that Hindustan Lever rated Bhandari very highly. He said “If Labdhi had not left Hindustan Lever; he would have joined the company’s Board of Directors in a few years.” This remark shows how highly the industry rated him. It also shows Labdhi’s passion for academics.

Two cases he wrote about development and marketing of new products have now become classics. No teaching programme in marketing is complete without teaching these cases. Besides being an excellent case writer, he was an excellent teacher. Young students in the IIMA’s two year programme and the experienced executives in the Institute’s Management Development programmes, respected his deep insights in marketing and his skills in teaching.

LRB at a seminar at IIM, Ahmedabad (date unknown)

Labdhi, Professor A. K. Jain and I worked on a consulting project with Binny Ltd, a large textile company in Southern India. One dimension of the project was to chalk out a marketing strategy for Binny Ltd. In the course of our discussion I suggested a particular positioning for the company’s products. In my judgment, the positioning I had suggested suited the company’s personality. However, the advertising agency strongly disagreed with me. Labdhi came to my rescue. He articulated the idea so lucidly and convincingly that the Agency accepted the suggestion. Later, Labdhi and I had many arguments about the role of formal analysis in making marketing decisions. Labdhi always said, “Dr Mote, marketing executives of flesh and blood never act so rationally.” My argument was that we did not understand their rationale and therefore, probably, we think that the executives are not acting rationally. Unfortunately, his death deprived me of the opportunity to resolve the issue.

Cruelly, death cut short his brilliant career. We lost a valued colleague who was always so unassuming in spite of his achievements. The students lost an excellent teacher. The Bhagavadgita tells us "Just as a person casts off worn-out garments and puts on others that are new, even so does the embodied soul cast off worn out bodies and takes on others that are new." The eternal does not move from place to place but the embodied soul moves from one abode to another. Such thoughts are the only solace for his family and associates he left behind.

* Dr. Vasant Mote taught LRB at IIMA and was a senior colleage for 14 years. He retired from IIMA in 1993 and is now associated with Arvind Mills.

Sunday 4 October 2009

Labdhi’s Early Days

Labdhi was my younger brother. I am the eldest amongst five brothers and two sisters and he was the next. We both were born from the first marriage of our father and had lost our mother at a very young age. I was just 3 and Labdhi was less than a year old at that time. Rest of our siblings were born from our step-mother whom our father married soon after the death of our real mother. We also had in our family our elderly aunt, the wife of my father’s late elder brother. We all called her “Baiji”. She was elder to my father and had lost her husband just a few months after her marriage. As she didn’t have any children of her own, she took special care of Labdhi and me. She was the eldest person in our family and commanded respect from everyone. In fact, she eventually stayed in Jodhpur and on her own looked after and supervised the college education of all of us siblings as well as of about an equal number of children (3 boys and 4 girls) of my father’s younger sister. My father was fully dedicated to providing the best possible education to all of his children and provided adequate financial resources to take care of that. Financial support from our father and unselfish dedication, sacrifice, and hardwork on part of Baiji finally resulted in one of the most educated and close-knit families in our community in this part of the country.

It has been more than five decades now and it is difficult to remember any of the specific events of our early childhood. But, one thing I do remember is that Labdhi did not eat his food properly during his childhood years. He would try to hide parts of what was on his plate to give an impression that he had already consumed it. Baiji had to sit next to him during meal times to make sure he ate properly. Another thing I remember about Labdhi was that he was an introvert. He rarely went out to play with friends in the neighbourhood although that was the normal thing to do for most of the boys of his age in those days. There were no television in fifties and sixties in India and thus the only entertainment for kids was to play together in groups. However, he mostly stayed at home. He was a very quiet and simple boy who never picked any fights or quarrels with anybody and there were no complaints from any quarters about him either. I think he would always listen carefully and apparently tried to comprehend things in his own mind. But he rarely spoke much in those days. Thus, he had a rather quiet and uneventful childhood as far as I can remember. He was already quite thoughtful, reflective, and humane in those early days of his life.

BS Bhandari and LRB, School Days, Sojat, 1959-60.

We would visit Mandoli (a pilgrimage) every few months. I also remember our trips together to Mount Abu (a Hill station) in the summers and trips to Jodhpur, Jaipur, Udaipur, Hyderabad, Bombay, and Jaisalmer during the early childhood. Our father also took us frequently to picnics at the Sardar Samand Palace which used to be a royal (Jodhpur Maharaja) hunting retreat and was about 40 kms from Sojat. Our father was the legal counsel looking after the royal properties in that area and thus had free access to the Palace there. I also used to visit Khimel(Rani), my nanihal, during my summer holidays but Labdhi rarely joined me there. He would usually stay back with Baiji at Sojat. He remained reserved even on the Holi and Diwali functions. It was just his nature in those days. I think it was only in the upper classes of the Higher Secondary School that Labdhi began participating in debates and other literary activities in school and started becoming more social.

We studied at a Government Higher Secondary School in Sojat, a tehsil headquarter in Pali district of Rajasthan, India. It was a Hindi medium school with none of the frills associated with the better known english medium public schools in India of the time. However, it was much closer to the national realities as boys from all socio-economic segments of the society attended it. Those were also the days of great national pride and patriotism as India had just become independent in 1947 and there were talks of development all around. The government wanted to train a lot of engineers, doctors, scientists, and other professionals and there were lots of new jobs becoming available for educated people.

Our father was an Advocate (Lawyer), a member of the Bar Council at Rajasthan High Court. He was settled in Sojat and thus practiced Law mostly at the Tehsil Courts in Sojat and at District Courts in Pali. He was one of the leading lawyers in Pali district and thus had a good practice, name, and fame. He was also involved in the Indian Freedom Movement and was thus well respected in the society there. He was also involved in a lot of social and political activities. I still remember the day during my childhood when the then Chief Minister of our state, Shri Mohan Lal Sukhadia, came with his entourage for dinner at our home. Later we had many prominent personalities of those times such as Shri Mathura Das Mathur, Shri Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, Shri L M Singhvi, and Shri Gumanmal Lodha, etc visiting us from time to time. Such interaction was an advantage with which we grew up. We were always made to feel special and were thus motivated enough to excel in our academics as well as in other activities to be able to lead. Our father also had strong literary interests. He used to write Hindi poetry and had formed a group to promote such activities in the town. I still remember our Hindi teacher at school as a frequent visitor to our home in connection with these activities. This had profound influence on me as well as on Labdhi. I began writing short stories etc in Hindi at a very early age and even got published in papers/magazines while still in school. We both also became active with debate competitions and with other literary activities at school and represented our school at District level events.

Living in Sojat, we obviously had a semi-rural upbringing. This had its advantages as well as disadvantages: the main advantage being that we could see the society at a greater depth and in its real form particularly in the rural areas. Our father had a lot of farmers as his clients and we used to visit their farms occasionally at the time of the harvesting of new crops to enjoy, for example, the corn-on-the-cob and fresh green wheat baked in open-fire in a field. That gave us a first-hand deeper feeling of the rural society which you could never acquire from a good public school education in urban areas. The school we attended was a Multi-Purpose Higher Secondary School in those days. We had to even learn Weaving and Tailoring there as part of our course work. That came very handy when we lived alone in hostels/dorms later in India and abroad. The main disadvantage was of course the lack of opportunity to learn and speak fluent English. There was also no electricity in Sojat until 1960, and I passed my Higher Secondary Examinations studying with kerosene lamps. Labdhi was lucky to have access to electricity during the last two years (1960-62) of his schooling at Sojat. At that time, radio was the only source of entertainment for us. There were just two broadcasts : 1)’Radio Ceylon’ where we listened to musical programs and songs, and 2)‘Aakashvani’ where we listened to daily news and speeches from the national leaders.

BS Bhandari, LRB and other friends from the neighbourhood, Sojat, 1957-58.

Labdhi was a little less than three years younger to me and was just two grades behind me in school. We both had been tutored at home and begun school directly in a higher grade: me in 4th grade, and Labdhi also in 4th grade two years later. I finished my Higher Secondary School in Science stream and moved to Jaswant college at Jodhpur in July 1960. Labdhi was in 10th grade at that time in Arts stream. During the next two years in school, he actively participated in several literary activities and became more social. Amongst his friends from school at Sojat, I remember Sushil Bhandari (a practicing C.A. in Bombay), Sampat Singhvi (a successful pharmacist in USA), Suparas Bhandari (former Director of Oriental Insurance Co., and Founder-Chairman of the Agricultural Insurance Company of the Govt of India, now retired), and Bhanwar Lal Kumhar who continued with him during their B.A. program at Jodhpur and then joined RJS or RAS services of Govt. of Rajasthan.

LRB with cousins at Jaisalmer, College days, 1963-64

Labdhi came to Jodhpur in 1962 to join the newly formed University of Jodhpur for his B.A. program. I had lived in a hostel during the years 1960-62 in Jodhpur but me and Labdhi both lived with Shri Subh Rajsa Dhariwal and his family during the academic year 1962-63. Shri Subh Rajsa Dhariwal was the younger brother of Baiji and lived in Manak Chowk in Jodhpur at that time. In July 1963, our family rented a house in Mohanpura, close to the college campus, and we moved there. This is where all our siblings and relatives lived and got their college education under the supervision of Baiji.

I finished my B.Sc. and joined the first batch of M.Sc. in Physics at the University of Jodhpur in July 1963. During the three years in college(1962-65), there was a distinct change in Labdhi’s personality; though still thin, tall, and with a frail-looking physique, he became much more of an extrovert and had good friends with similar tastes and interests. I remember Brij Mohan Jindal(retired as Chief Commissioner of Income Tax, Govt of India), Jitendra Singhi (a practicing lawyer at Rajasthan High Court Bench in Jaipur), and Deepali Chatterjee in particular. They would socialize often and also have contacts with visiting foreign students etc as they all spoke some english.

LRB & Brij Mohan Jindal with visiting foreign students, College days, Jodhpur, 1964-65.

During the final year Labdhi and Brij Mohan both tried and got admission in IIMA for the MBA program. So Labdhi moved to Ahmedabad in 1965 and I became a Lecturer in Physics at the University of Jodhpur after topping my M.Sc. examinations that year.

Labdhi and Brij Mohan Jindal both joined IIMA for their MBA programs. Our father accompanied Labdhi to Ahmedabad at the time of first joining the institute as Labdhi had never lived alone and the family was worried about his health and also about his meals (food) at the IIMA hostel. Ahmedabad was quite familiar to our father as he himself had studied Law there. They also met Shri Ashok Purohit who was studying Architecture there at that time. Ashok’s father also used to be a freedom fighter and published a newspaper in Jodhpur. Ashok was quite helpful in introducing Labdhi to Ahmedabad and remained a good friend ever.

However, the MBA program turned out to be tougher than what Labdhi and Brij Mohan had anticipated. The main handicaps Labdhi had were the lack of adequate preparation in mathematics and problems with spoken english. Being a graduate in Arts stream from a Hindi-medium program, these were expected. He has described these initial difficulties in a term paper he later wrote. His friend Brij Mohan decided to quit after a semester and returned back to Jodhpur. He later joined the Civil Services(Allied) of the Govt of India. Labdhi worked very hard and finally overcame these initial hurdles and completed his MBA in 1967, placed 5th in the batch and with two job offers. He joined Hindustan Levers Limited (HLL) as a management trainee in July 1967.

LRB at the IIMA convocation , Ahmedabad, 1967.

* Dr. Brahm Swaroop Bhandari is LRB's elder brother and a nuclear physicist who has taught and done research at various universities around the world. He now lives in Jodhpur.