Saturday 25 July 2015

Prof. VN Asopa remembers...

Labdhi and I were neighbors for many years. Our children grew up together and now I do not recall when I stopped calling him Bhandari Sahab and started addressing him Labdhi. We shared a common hedge but part of it was removed for easy accessibility between two families. I remember there were times when we would both be in our respective gardens and chat without feeling the need to cross the hedge. There is a Gulmohar tree which was also our favourite spot for exchanging not only pleasantries but also holding serious professional discussions. 

What I most appreciated in Labdhi was his considerateness. He was always there to help but at the same time he never encroached on the other person's privacy. Once when my daughter's illness took a serious turn, I remember Labdhi rushing out to get the prescribed medicine before my wife could even complete the sentence. He very rarely expressed his feelings but his actions spoke volumes. He was a perfect gentleman and the most extreme criticism that he ever expressed about anyone was "I don't know why he behaves like this." 

Labdhi always held his teachers in high esteem. My brother and his wife taught him at the Jodhpur University. Once when my sister-in-law visited us, Labdhi specially came over to pay his respect to his former teacher. I also recall when Professor RL Sharma was at the Institute. He too was Labdhi's teacher at the Jodhpur University. The respect and courtesies Labdhi showed to him was remarkable. Labdhi was very attached to his family. Whatever time he could find from his busy schedule he would spend with his sons. He loved to play with them, talk to them, and take them out for special treats. 

Our professional interaction was not much - actually it was just about to begin. But from my contacts with industry I know the high esteem he was held there. He was the only man in the Institute who had a broad based contact with the industry, which recognized his intellectual capabilities and appreciated his contribution. To give an example of his standing in the industry, I remember several occasions when board meetings were held in Ahmedabad by various companies to ensure that Labdhi attended them. He strongly believed that the Institute should work towards strengthening its ties with industry. 

*Prof. VN Asopa was a colleague and neighbour of LRB at the IIM Ahmedabad. In 1988, they were on the verge of beginning a collaborating on a project for the Agricultural and Processed Foods Export Development Authority (APEDA) at the invitation of LRB's friend Kr. Fateh Singh Jasol. This tribute was written some time in 1988. 

S. Ramachander remembers...

Marketing Loses a Star

by S. Ramachander

When Prof. Labdhi Bhandari died in the air crash at Ahmedabad on 19 October 1988, the marketing profession in India lost one of its outstanding advocates. He was only 40 years old, but had already compressed into two decades, an exceptional career as a student, researcher, manager, professor and consultant. But then he was always precocious in the best meaning of the term. He was the youngest student on record at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad in its second batch and went on to become easily the youngest senior manager at Hindustan Lever. 

A list of his attainments will show an unusual commitment to excellence: he won a top rank at IIM-A overcoming the handicap of an entirely Hindi medium undergraduate background. After a short but brilliant managerial stint, went on to an award winning doctoral dissertation at Columbia University. On his return he rose to be one of the most respected senior members of the faculty not only at the IIM but in the entire country. His consultancy assignments kept following in from the public and the private sectors. He was associated with prestigious, national policy level projects concerning the Tea Board, the Planning Commission, the Public Distribution System for Essential Commodities, and Family Planning, to mention just a few that I personally knew of. Only last year he added two more distinctions to this impressive list: a $10,000 research grant from the US and the STC Chair in Marketing. 

He remained consistently unflustered by the attention and the glamour of the multinational marketing world. Directorships of companies like EID Parry and Enfield India were to him the same as helping a friend out unobtrusively with a small scale marketing experiment which intellectually challenged him. He was very conscious of the fact that he was - and wished to be - a simple person, all of a piece. He never bothered to conceal his roots and cultural origins in semi-urban Rajasthan, to which he came back to do all his field work for his PhD thesis at Columbia University.  

His doctoral research concentrated on the adoption process of family planning by the rural population of Rajasthan and the resulting thesis emerged as the best among all those received that year in the US Universities towards a PhD in Marketing. It was later published as a book. which could serve as a model for any aspiring scholar. 

As a writer, Labdhi's style was like the man himself - spare, lean, precise and without the slightest air of pomp. Not for him the flamboyance of his friends in the ad. world nor the turgid prose of the more typical Americanised researcher. In speech, he came across with a directness and a light touch of humour which was often self deprecating and poking fun at the most irritatingly superficial ways of his own countrymen. He made no bones of the fact that the over glamorizing of the face of Marketing was a serious disservice to it both as a discipline as well as a profession.  

To his students of marketing it was nothing short of a privilege to attend his heavily over-subscribed elective courses which were a runaway success. While he was highly successful as a teacher, he was a stern disciplinarian, demanding very long hours on project work from his students. But he rewarded them with personal attention and detailed feedback often lasting 12 hours in a single day. 

I have had the privilege of knowing him for 23 years and our careers have run a strangely parallel course from Ahmedabad to Lever to the US and back to the Institute. Working closely with him, although as a visiting faculty over the last five years, I have had many a long discussion often late into the night on almost everything under the sun. He was seldom dogmatic or highly demonstrative but always had a thoughtful point to make. His somewhat shy and self effacing manner, particularly noticeable in the early stage of his career, often misled some people to thinking that he could be easily won over. But nothing was further from the truth. He was intellectually strong and had enormous courage. I should like to think that he went equally courageously - with few regrets. But when I next go to the campus, I shall miss the routine walk down the road through a smoky winter evening to his lawns where a welcome cup of tea and snacks invariably awaited me - or a message that he was out of town. 

But let me not be selfish. It has been a privilege knowing Labdhi for half his life. And for that one should be grateful. 

* This tribute to LRB was written by the Late S. Ramachander in 1988, soon after LRB's death. It was published in the IIM-A Alumnus magazine in January 1989. Mr. Ramachander, himself a pioneer of marketing, passed away in 2008. 

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Mr. S. Santhanam remembers...

It was a great pleasure for me to work with Prof. Bhandari, particularly during his two year term as Chairman of Management Development Programmes (MDP). We used to meet him almost daily in that period.

Even before he took over as Chairman MDP, I would meet him occasionally for programmes that he was teaching, for case materials, etc. I remember that he had designed a novel, one-week programme on Product Policy and New Product Development/Management. The first programme was held in Goa. It was a major success. Later, it was shifted to the Management Development Centre (MDC) and IIM-A continued to offer the programme on a regular basis every year. Prof. Bhandari was regarded as a marketing guru, and many organizations would just send their executives for the programme so that they would have a chance to meet and interact with him. He would send special mailers to top-level executives in marketing and they would respond immediately and positively. Such was his charisma in the Marketing community. 

When he was made Coordinator for the Top Tier of the 3-Tier Programmes, he made significant changes in its structure. He made it as a theme-based conference and admitted only the very top-level executives and rejected many nominations who would have otherwise found admission in earlier years in the same Top Tier. Many big companies were taken aback, but he stood his ground saying that once the companies understand our message, they will think twice before sending nominations for the Top Tier. At least for the two years that he coordinated the Top Tier of the 3-TP, he followed this policy. Also IIM-A continued to offer the Top Tier as a theme-based conference in later years.

In 1983, Prof. Bhandari started his two-year tenure as Chairman MDP. He told us that we should run the Management Development Centre as a cost-profit centre. Earlier MDP committees from the very beginning used to fix room/board tariff on an ad-hoc basis, raising them marginally every 2-3 years. The rates were abysmally low, and had no relationship to the cost of operations. Prof. Bhandari collected details from accounts and other relevant departments about the cost of constructing the building, installation of AC plants, furnitures/fixtures, annual electricity bills, provision bills for a year, laundry services, purchase of crockeries/cutleries, linen items etc. etc. and arrived at cost per participant on the basis of different occupancy ratios. Thereafter, the room and boarding tariff was fixed at realistic levels.

It was during Prof. Bhandari's tenure that the Advanced Management Programme (AMP) was developed and offered in collaboration with the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE). The first AMP had been offered by IIM Calcuttta a couple of years before.1. At the specific request of BPE, this programme was taken up by IIMA after discussion with BPE by then Director, Dr. I.G. Patel and Chairman MDP, Prof. Bhandari. Initially one programme was to be conducted by us.

The facilities at the Management Development Centre were at a primitive stage at that time. As the AMP was an important programme for IIMA, Prof. Bhandari wanted to enhance the facilities at MDC (airconditioning the dining hall, auditorium, basement class rooms etc., adding a library counter, reading room etc). Director was in full and complete support of his initiative and requested the then Chief Engineer, Mr Nirbubhai Desai to execute whatever modifications were requested by Prof. Bhandari, to start the work immediately and complete it in record time before AMP’s commencement. Director told Mr. Desai not to bother about financial sanction etc. as he would take care of it himself. He was given carte blanche to accomplish the task, which he did remarkably. Even today, MDC's old block is as per the modifications/improvements requested by LRB – except that the computer lab. was shifted to one end of the reception lobby. During his tenure as MDP Chairman, Prof. Bhandari preferred to hold meetings with visitors etc. at the MDC (even on Saturdays/Sundays/Holidays). Many outside visitors used to wait at MDC to meet him and he would telephone me from his residence about expected visitors for meetings. 

Looking to the huge cost involved in improving the infrastructure, we asked BPE to allot at least two AMPs for IIMA to partly offset the cost, which they readily agreed. We had about 30+ participants – It was designed in three modules – the first module was four weeks at IIM-A (Academic), 2nd module involved a foreign visit for about 2 weeks (to understand the practices/policies followed by PSUs in that country) and third module at New Delhi – with Government Interface – where participants used to visit various ministries, PSUs etc., followed finally by presentation by the groups before BPE officials and secretaries to GOI and other invitees of BPE. Two groups were formed for the overseas trips. One group went to Japan. Prof. Bhandari took care of this group and he visited in advance for preparation before the programme’s commencement.2. The second one was to Hungary, probably led by Prof. GR Kulkarni.

LRB addressing the inaugural session of the Advanced Management Programme on the 2nd of July, 1984. On the dais are Mr. SM Krishna, then Minister of State for Finance and Industry (3rd from left), and RP Billimoria, Chairman of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (2nd fro left).
The programme was a big success and for the next batch, some modifications were made - the first module remained same, the second module became the Government interface (as participants in the first batch felt that before going abroad, they should get first-hand knowledge/briefing from Govt. functionaries), followed by foreign visit and on return they worked for 2-3 days to make final presentations. Subsequently, many more batches were offered by IIM-A during Prof.NR Sheth's tenure as Director) 

After the AMP, Prof. Bhandari talked to me and my boss Mr. K. Rajagopal (Programmes officer, MDP) and said that to recoup the huge expenditure that was incurred for the MDC upgrades, whether we could also host the 3-Tier Programmes. The 3-Tier Programme, one of IIM-A's prestigious programmes was a 2 month programme for three tiers of management – middle, senior, top level executives. This programme usually ran into over 100 participants, with about 25-30 in the Top Tier, and IIM-A had historically held it in other locations such as Agra, Jaipur, Goa etc. My boss and I readily agreed to his suggestion of hosting this big programme at the MDC. LRB wrote an appreciative communication to the Director, saying that he had discussed the possibility of hosting 3-TPs at IIM-A with his colleagues (myself and my boss – he equated us as colleagues) and that they were confident of handling the programme without difficulty. In that communication he worked out the cost savings for the Institute for holding 3-TPs on the campus over a period of time. This probably enabled Director to convince the Building committee members about the cost effectiveness on the investment.

I also have vivid recollections of seeing Prof. Bhandari outside of work. I had a habit of coming in to work very early in the morning and working late. As a result, I often saw him in the morning or evenings during his walk in the campus with a small kid on his shoulder and a slightly older kid walking along with him, holding one of his hands.

His sudden death came as a shock to me personally and also my other MDC staff. I still cherish my association with him.

*Mr. S. Santhanam was a colleague of LRB at IIM-Ahmedabad. He administered the Kasturbhai Lalbhai Management Development Centre and worked closely with LRB during the latter's stint as the Chairman of Management Development Programmes.

Editor's Notes: 

1. Prof. Dharni Sinha, in his memoirs, claims that the AMP was, in-fact, first developed and offered by the Administrative Staff College of India in collaboration with the Bureau of Public Enterprises and that IIM-A copied its overall structure, including the foreign visit module. See: Sinha, D. Learning from Life, p203, Excel Books, 2007. 

2. N. Ravi, who was then the First Secretary (Economic and Commercial) at the Indian Embassy at Japan, has given us his account of this trip by LRB with the AMP participants. While in Japan, LRB also found some time to have meetings with Toy manufacturers in connection with diversification opportunities that he was exploring for Enfield India, where he was a member of the Board. 

Tuesday 14 July 2015

Prof. Dwijendra Tripathy remembers...

Although I was on the IIM-A faculty when Labdhi joined the Institute's Post Graduate Programme (PGP) in July 1965, I had very little interaction with him as he had not taken my course. However, some of my colleagues, whose courses he had taken and who had known him better, often talked very favourably about his academic capabilities and sophisticated behaviour. I had a chance to get to know him better when he returned to the Institute as a member of the faculty after a stint as an executive with Hindustan Lever. He took very little time to adjust to his new environment and impressed his faculty colleagues as well as his students with his teaching ability.

I had a personal taste of Labdhi's human qualities when I was his guest for a few days at New York in December 1973. He was doing his Ph.D. at Colmbia University with the Institute's sponsorship. I was on a brief visit to the United States as the Institute's Dean --- the position was newly created to assist the Director in discharge of his duties --- to study the process of academic planning in the American universities. Despite the heavy load of studies, Labdhi was very generous with his time and attention during my stay with him. I still have a vivid memory of his gracious hospitality. 

After he returned home with a Columbia Ph.D., he soon established himself as one of the most admired teachers at the Institute. Though somewhat withdrawn from the humdrum of campus life, he won the love and respect of his colleagues and students alike. There was a widespread belief in the Institute community that he would be the next Director. Alas, cruel death denied the Institute this good luck. His smiling face and gracious manners will always be missed by those who came in his contact. 

A day or two after the tragic air crash, I recall that Mudra, Ahmedabad (where a number of IIM-A graduates were working) had put up an advertisement in the Times of India as a tribute to Labdhi. If my memory serves right, it consisted of a lamp or candle, a symbol of light, that had been suddenly extinguished. It was a very touching tribute that summed up what everyone was feeling. 

*Prof. Dwijendra Tripathi was Prof. of Business History at IIM, Ahmedabad and a colleague of LRB.