Tuesday 25 March 2014

Dr. Surinder Pruthi remembers...

50 years is a long time, especially in the life of someone who has encountered many a student. Some students, however, remain exceptional in thought & memory. Labdhi was one such. 

The first thing I remember is an intense faculty debate that happened at the time of Labdhi’s admission to IIM, Ahmedabad. He was too young, having just turned 17 and Institute policy at that time at any rate did not envisage someone of his age being admissible. But, he was exceptional on all parameters and it was decided that he would be admitted. He went on to vindicate faculty’s choice fully.**

The second thing which I distinctly remember is with regard to summer placement. With the Institute being new, the concept of a summer job did not exist. The institute had, however, sold its product to the top management of various companies via the route of conducting Advance Management Programmes (3TP) etc. Labdhi had multiple options and he chose wisely.*** Being few in number the Faculty had distributed various tasks between itself and summer training was in my charge. I got very positive feedback from LRB’s campus interviews.

On graduation, LRB again had multiple options. Being level headed, he mulled over each one of them with me carefully. He left me with a distinct impression that he wanted to pursue further studies in the USA at some point, which he did after a few years of working in industry. The institute sponsored him for overseas studies and he was unstoppable. We were looking at a future legend. I had left the Institute in the late 60s to join industry and my memory of LRB’s progression from that point on is rather faint but did I hear that LRB had come full circle and joined the Institute as a faculty, fulfilling the dream of an intellectual in him.

My wife on one of her flights from Mumbai to Ahmedabad heard the awful news of his demise in an air crash.

*Prof. S. Pruthi was a founder-professor of IIMA and taught LRB. 

Editor's notes: 

**There is some doubt about this story about LRB's age being an issue at the time of his admission. The chairman of PGP, Prof. Vasant Mote, does not remember any such discussion. On the other hand, we found a condolence letter from Prof. KK Anand, now deceased, who was the Chairman of the Admissions committee. He mentions that he was criticized for admitting LRB.  A member of LRB's family also does remember an age-related issue. 

***A biographical note that LRB wrote during his second year at IIM-A contradicts this point. While LRB was interviewed for pretty much every summer job he applied for, none of them made him an offer, citing his young age. The only offer he received was from a company in South India which had made its offers only on the basis of CVs, without an interview. 

Wednesday 5 March 2014

D. Ranganathan remembers...

Even after all these years, Labdhi's face came to me instantly - an unforgettable face, smiling, with a sparkle in the eyes - firm, but benevolent. I had the privilege of working with him, though only for a short period, when he was my boss in early 70s.

Let me first provide a brief background. At Hindustan Lever in 1970, Marketing Research (MR) was a part of the Management Services Group (MSG) consisting of Operations Research (OR),  Economics and Systems, all under Dr. VN Patankar. An expatriate, Alex Mitchell, came to Bombay as head of MR in 1970 and re-organised MR into two sub-groups - Client Services and Operations. He left after a year and Robert Tofts  succeeded him. Thus Mitchel gave structure to MR and Tofts imparted training on techniques evolved in the Marketing Division, London.

During Toft’s period Labdhi was appointed head of the Client Services group and four executives (myself being one) reported to Labdhi. We were all wondering why Labdhi agreed to  move to MR, because for any high-flier like him, such  a move away from a line management position would have been seen as a setback. Labdhi had a good, positive image and was considered a real future star at Levers. But we considered ourselves lucky to have such a brilliant person as our boss.

Labdhi was firm and ensured that correct MR practices were followed. In those days, the Marketing department assumed superiority and tried to enforce what they wanted. Therefore MR needed someone who could ensure that  MR was properly heard and accepted by marketing. Labdhi played this role.

I remember one story in particular. All market research projects should be initiated only after 'Action Standards' are specified by marketing. Action standards are very important, because they determine the criteria that are used to evaluate a product test and decide whether a product will be adopted or rejected. Unless a client specifies appropriate action standards before data from a product test is evaluated, the results can be interpreted in any way one wants.

On one occasion, in view of the urgency, a product test was initiated. The results came in and the marketing manager, Chakravarthy, asked me for a final recommendation. I refused to give out the results because they had not specified action standards. I stood firm and the marketing manager approached Labdhi, but he supported me and refused to reveal the results until marketing outlined the action standards. This action of Labdhi gave a clear signal to Marketing that MR will have the final word. This also ensured that in all future projects Action Standards were clearly specified before initiation.

The HLL Vice Chairman, David Webb, returned to London after his tenure was complete, but he later made one visit specifically to meet Labdhi which indicates the high regard  he had for him. Labdhi resigned from Hindustan Lever and moved back to IIM, Ahmedabad in January 1972 to take up an academic position. 

*Mr. D. Ranganathan was a colleague of LRB's at Hindustan Lever in the 1970s.