We suggest that this paradox arises from LRB consciously adopting a tough, no-nonsense teaching persona that was at odds with his natural personality. LRB, as a teacher, had a clear objective. He wanted to create a classroom environment in which the students could not fly by the seat of their pants. He wanted them to put in the hard hours and rely on careful thought and preparation, rather than just on their smarts. And, to this end, he cultivated a persona that was made-to-order. Everything he said or did clearly signalled that he meant business. He was very serious in his demeanor and seldom smiled. He deployed an acerbic wit and a biting sarcasm that punished anything that betrayed looseness or a lazy approach. As Pranesh Mishra, PGP 77, recalled: "One would be a fool to attend his class without reading the case in advance. He would pick students at random and ask for interpretation and point of view. God help you, if you were not prepared." Late Prof. MN Vora, LRB's teacher and senior colleague in the marketing department, said in 1988, just after LRB's death: "He was perceived to be tough by the students. Students were careful in his class. This was because he had a very sharp diagnostic sense and would not tolerate any looseness."
LRB found ways to keep the focus of the discussion in the classroom solely on the case or problem at hand. As Rajnish Agarwal, PGP 88 recalls..."He was very good at setting the tone and direction of the conversation. I am reminded of a moment in his very first class. Labdhi walked in and we barely said good-morning. We just sat huddled together, partly in fear of his reputation and partly in awe, overwhelmed I think with his presence and his serious demeanor. After a few pregnant minutes of uneasy silence, Labdhi said, 'So, what should Mr. Shah do?' We all looked at each other for the 'sacrificial one'. He then repeated, 'Has anyone read the case?' ... to which a brave one amongst us, at the very back of the class, sat up and said "Sir, would it not be better if you introduced yourself to us first?....Labdhi, composure personified, looked at him and said 'Would that help solve the case?' That set us up for the rest of his class and the term, I think!"
|LRB in an IIM-A classroom|
So, why was Labdhi Bhadari so brash? As a former student, Rajnish Agarwal, PGP 88, says "Labdhi carried a deep sense of responsibility in our development and he was very conscientious of his role and impact to that effect". LRB's goal was not just to impart marketing knowledge but to prepare students for the tough world of business by shaping their thinking, beliefs and values. The origins of his approach lie in his own experience as a student. His two years at IIM-A as a young PGP student had been a life-changing experience. He came in to the programme confident of his abilities and expecting to do well. Instead, he quickly found himself out of depth and suffered a serious crisis of confidence. To emerge successful, he had to learn how to work very hard and improve slowly. This gave him tremendous self-confidence, of a new, truer sort. The trial-by-fire had a deep impact and would shape LRB's attitude. It led him to value hard work, preparation, and careful, rigorous thinking over intelligence and ability and to abhor looseness and laziness. As a teacher, he worked to inculcate the same values and demanded the same kind of dedicated hard work from his students that had helped him excel.
*This article was put together by Apoorva Bhandari on the basis of the testimony of the people named in the note. Please leave your comments below and do share your own memories of LRB with us.