Thursday 13 November 2014

Mohan Menon remembers...

I first met Dr Bhandari when we were making a presentation to Enfield India, makers of motorcycles. We were already the agency for Enfield and handled their iconic brand ‘Bullet’. Enfield had just entered into a collaboration with a German company Zundapp for making and launching their two-wheelers in India. This was, as I recall, in the early 80’s. 

Dr Bhandari had been on the Board of Enfield India, but this was the first time he was interacting with us. He struck us as being a fairly young intellectual. At the time, we did not know anything about his pedigree. During this meeting he was very open-minded about the strategy and the creative work. While he did have some queries, he liked the scripts and was fine with our plan. The Enfield team was also supportive and we were good to go.

There were two new brands that they wanted to launch and for which we had to shoot TV commercials: a moped named ‘Silver Plus ‘ and a light motorbike named ‘Explorer’. I was then the creative chief and had crafted an endearing commercial for Silver Plus with a liitle girl and her father encountering Sunil Gavaskar, which we had shot in Pune. The commercial for Explorer featured a young couple traversing interesting locales in harmony with a memorable song. D-Day dawned and we were in an anxious state as revealed the two commercials to the Enfield team. We were intently watching Dr.Bhandari’s reactions as the commercials rolled. To our intense relief and elation, he broke into a smile as he complimented the agency. The commercials went on air soon after. Later, we had a number of meetings later about the Bullet, a mini-Bullet and another Zundapp Brand named ‘Fury’ and over these meetings, Dr Bhandari and I had struck up an excellent relationship. 

In one conversation with me, he shared some of his views on IIM-A’s PGP programme and said that he felt that the final year students would really benefit from a session on creativity and he was keen that I conduct such a session. Needless to say,  I felt hugely privileged and honoured. I enjoyed my sessions at Ahmedabad and visited the institute for 3 years. One day, I received a call from Dr. Bhandari about a session he wanted me to conduct at a workshop in Goa in November 1988. I readily agreed.

That program in Goa was never to be. I was on the road from Pondicherry to Chennai when I heard the tragic news about the crash of an Indian Airlines flight bound for Ahmedabad. Little did I know that Dr.Bhandari had been on board.

*Mohan Menon was a Former Board Member of Ogilvy & Mather.

Saturday 8 November 2014

Vinita Bali remembers...

Professor Bhandari was an icon and all of us young marketing managers at that time, put him on a pedestal - for his intellect, for his insight and for his ability to take you to a place that would be hard to find on your own.

Cadbury House at Peddar Road, Bombay, where
LRB had his final work meeting. 
I was fortunate enough to interact with Professor Bhandari in 1988, when I was General Manager of Marketing at Cadbury India and he consulted with us on how to accelerate the profitable growth trajectory of our brands. In fact, he was in Bombay for a meeting in Cadbury on October 18th and we worked late that evening, going through all kinds of consumer and market data. It was at an early stage of the consultation and I remember being fascinated by his approach and his unique ability to probe and generate insights that the rest of us would have struggled to find. Little did we know that this was to be his very last meeting. It was a shock to learn the next day that his plane back to Ahmedabad had crashed. I still remember the uncanny silence that the entire office fell into, on hearing the news.

In the short time that I interacted with him, he was curious about how these brands were marketed in other countries. I had returned from my stint in the UK and I remember we spent long hours talking about the relevance of the category in India and the UK and what were the drivers and differentiators for consumers in these markets. His approach was fresh, his piercing intellect and his ability to draw out information and play it back was unique. He was a natural teacher and taught as he talked. What I remember most from those interactions is his love for his work, a keen intellect and his ability to get to key insights very quickly. He was a true scholar and a great teacher.

*Vinita Bali is the Founder of the Britannia Nutrition Foundation, and recently stepped down as the Managing Director of Britannia Industries. In her long career as an executive, she has worked with Cadbury's, The Coca Cola Co., and the Zyman Group.

Sunday 2 November 2014

A SWO(T) analysis of LRB at 18

In 1966 LRB was 18 years old and a 2nd year PGP student at IIM-Ahmedabad. In preparation for the upcoming placement season, he prepared a five-page analysis of himself, his life objectives,  strengths, weaknesses and the opportunities available. 50 years later, this fraying document provides a remarkable glimpse into how LRB viewed himself at the time. Astonishingly, despite the vagaries of chance, his career appears to have closely followed the plans he set himself at the time. Until, of course, chance played its cruel part in his untimely death in 1988. 

A scan of the original copy of LRB's SWOT analysis. The text is reproduced below, lightly edited for clarity. 
LRB at age 18 or 19.

Name: Labdhipat Raj Bhandari

Age: 18 years (July 22, 1948)*

Academic Background:

Bachelor of Arts (1965) from Jodhpur University with Philosophy, Literature and Economics. Joined IIM Ahmedabad immediately after that.

Family Background:

Our family traditionally falls in the category of those 'intelligentsia" who capitalize on their professional (or educational) skills to make living. My father is (and my grand-father was) a "law practitioner". This means I have no tangible backing (business establishment etc) from family. I have been a "self-made man" by developing my own skills. I am second in rank in the family of 7 brothers and sisters.

Personal Aspirations (Ultimate Objective): To lead a very comfortable, satisfactory and reputable life (in economic sense, to afford all necessities, comforts and luxuries of life for me and all members of my family); and at the same time to obtain satisfaction by attaining extraordinary competency in the field of my career (management).

Alternative Strategic plans: 
  1. Managing (and/or advising for managing) business houses for their financiers and proprietors.
  2. Teaching the subject of Management at Academic and Educational Institutions; doing further research in the field and rendering consultancy services to the business and industry.
  3. Managing, controlling and owning one or more industrial and/or business undertakings.
It may be noted that all the three alternative plans satisfy the requirements for attaining the objectives spelled out under the Personal Aspirations (Ultimate Objective) title.

Assessment of my Resources:

  1. Full moral support and freedom from my parents for deciding on my career planning and implementing it, unless it is very risky. 
  2. A fairly reasonable "intellectual competence" and mental maturity which, I believe, I have got. I also consider my clarity of reasoning and thinking and taking actions which I have developed, as a plus point in me.
  3. My fairly good academic record, though not excellent at school and undergraduate level. School Final - 59% marks and 1st position in school faculty; College degree - 56% marks and second position; IIM-A: Second position in the first year.
  4. I personally consider my exceptionally young age (18 years) as a plus point. Firstly, it provides a cushion of about five years in which i can take liberty of changing plans, if required; learning from life without creating new responsibilities (like wife etc). Secondly, it provides me flexibility in my formulation of ideals ways of doing things etc. This helped me a great deal in the first year of IIM which was a great transitional period.
  1. Lack of tangible backing from my family, if i were to start my own business venture, or to proceed abroad for further studies.
  2. Lack of an impressive physique and want of very good health.
  3. My exceptionally young age, which works as a disadvantage as people relate, traditionally, age with maturity and thus fail to recognize my worth. This restricts the prospects of opportunities for me especially when they can find people with similar qualifications (MBA) of older age. This was my experience last summer during interviews for summer job.
  4. Inability to create glamour around myself in very short time - due to the lack of snobbish behaviour; tendency of mix with any one and polite behaviour with older people. However, I have been able to create positive favorable impression in people's minds, but that is through tangible achievement and exposure to my competence which takes longer time than an interview period.
  5. Lack of complete confidence in my abilities and a doubtful tendency towards them, has developed  mainly due to my unsuccessful placement interviews last year.

We are a big family and I have great deal of family responsibilities. I am second in the rank of 7 brothers and sisters with 3 younger sisters whose marriage is a big job in our society. Thus my assistance for that is required.

  1. Job prospects in executive cadre in Indian business and industry. With the expert assistance of placement office of the Institute, the job prospects are much better than what they would have been otherwise. But, in view of my last year's placement experience, I am very much skeptical about my own job prospects. And, the main reason again is my young age - viewed by my employers as a minus point. I don't have any exceptional advantage over others (like additional degrees or work experience) to offset the age disadvantage. But if any company recognized my worth and offers me a good job, I would very much like to take it up. But, I would be reluctant to take up a job which I consider as one which does not offer satisfaction, challenge and status commensurate with my own worth. I would not mind joining big business houses as management trainee.
  2. Another environmental opportunity which could be available is admission and financial aid for Doctor of Business Administration course in some good business school in USA. This again is uncertain mainly due to the financial assistance prospects which are very low. I do not have any finances of my own to finance even a fraction of the expenditure. I am trying for it and nothing can be said till the decisions come from the universities (due in mid or late April, 1967).

Assuming the availability of this opportunity, my analysis of the two sides of the coin is as follows: In the fair side, this utilizes my age advantage, the period which I have spare at my hand thus - at the age of an average MBA, 22 or 23, I will be DBA with some business experience in USA. This in fact turns my age from a disadvantageous to advantageous factor. I will also get some experience and knowledge from living in USA. The US degree may also give me a push in terms of getting a good job in industry or academic setting. This also reconciles the two alternative strategies i.e. of taking a job in Business or taking a job in Educational Institutions. I may take a job in one of the Educational Institutions in India after working in US for 2-3 years after DBA. Then, after completing 3 years or so in Education field I may shift to Industry directly at a senior level. Of course there are risks that I may not get opportunity in management later on.

The other side of the coin is that there is a great risk of becoming an academician for all the life, which I don't want to become from today's thinking. And if I were to come back to business only, then why should I waste three years in doing DBA which does not have any significant marginal utility over MBA for the management purposes. I will also be detached from my family for 5 to 7 years, especially when I have some family responsibilities in terms of assisting my father. Moreover, there is also a risk of losing determination of coming back to Indian society after a long stay in US, which again is not commensurate with the long term family responsibilities I have.

There is a theory which suggests that brilliant people should always engage themselves in teaching and research in order to get job satisfaction which is absent otherwise (in business management for example, the job becomes routine after some time and one doesn't derive satisfaction out of it). Although I don't claim to be very brilliant, but yet if the theory is true, I would prefer to be in teaching and research. But still the need and importance of practical experience in research and teaching (esp. in Management) cannot be denied. Thus one can always shift back to teaching after working in business. This is easier for me especially as I would not have additional responsibilities to discourage shifts and changes for another 5 to 7 years. I can go for DBA after 3 years work in Industry. In fact I would learn more and there are better prospects for financial assistance. Thus, this analysis of mine suggests that, if available, taking a job in industry would be preferable to DBA.

Role of Opportunities:

I don't think I am in a position to decide either plan of action. Much depends on opportunities. Suppose I don't get a good job and I am able to secure admission and financial aid in US for DBA, I might like to go ahead with it. And suppose there are job opportunities available without DBA opportunities, I have to take up the job. But the decision problem arises when both are available. Both the sides are strong and I defer my decision till I get some counseling from you**. Another possibility is that I don't have opportunities on either side. The course of action to be taken then, also I would like to discuss with you.

*LRB's date of birth appears as 22nd July in most official records. He was actually born, however, on 29th July 1948 a week later than the official record suggests. 

**The person referred to in the final paragraph may be Prof. Surinder Pruthi who was on the placement committee and remembers discussing LRB's options with him.