A tribute to Professor C.K.Prahalad

A tribute to Professor C.K.Prahalad

April 16, 2015 | Author: Suren Dutia, Senior Fellow at the Kauffman Foundation, ex CEO of TiE Global and Chairman and Xscribe Corporation.

A bespectacled man known for his great visionary and game-changing ideas, CK was a man of compassion, intelligence, diverse interests, wit and humility.  Amongst the many significant honors and awards for his outstanding contributions, he was twice named the number one management thought leader worldwide by Thinkers-50.  When he unexpectedly passed away almost five years ago, on April 16, 2010, he left behind an extraordinary legacy.


Like many have attested, Professor C.K. Prahalad had a profound influence on my wife, Jas Grewal and me.  C.K left a lasting first impression when we first met him at a social event.  With his strong interest in the arts, C.K. reached out to Jas who was then serving as a Trustee at The San Diego Museum of Art.  Over the years, we met C.K. and his wife Gayatri at lectures given by art historians and at openings of new exhibitions.  CK suggested many ideas on how to develop the San Diego Museum of Art as an internationally recognized center for Indian Art building on the Museum’s famed Edwin Binney 3rd Collection of miniature paintings. A firebrand for entrepreneurship, CK always believed entrepreneurship has a role to play in democratizing economic opportunities for the common people in India and around the world.  When TiE began to expand outside the Silicon Valley in 1997, C.K. was persuaded to help develop an effective strategic plan for expansion of the network.  Fueled by his passion and brilliance, he was an influential and guiding light to TiE for a number of years.  Having established a residence in San Diego and when his schedule permitted, C.K. attended the events of the San Diego TiE chapter.  In my role as the founding president of the San Diego TiE chapter, Jas and I were honored to see C.K. periodically and hear about big ideas that could spark changes.


We remember his sensitivity through so many examples we witnessed. One such example is that he noticed that my wife Jas and I were spending an inordinate amount of our time and energy to get the San Diego TiE chapter off the ground by identifying speakers, marketing the monthly events and attending to operational matters, C.K. would periodically call us to express his concern for our well-being. His feelings were articulated not with grand words but through gracious gestures.  C.K. stated that he wanted to help obtain resources for building the chapter to minimize our work and he graciously suggested we both contribute $10,000 each to hire a person on a part-time basis to relieve the burden of day-to-day operations for the development of the chapter on us.  Although we were able to hire a person without taking funds from C.K., I was touched by his sensitivity and how he did this in a low-key and subtle manner without using a megaphone to highlight his efforts.


C.K was a man of his word. This was evident in the fall of 2007 when California saw one of the worst wildfires seasons ever. A series of thirty wildfires began spreading across Southern California and San Diego and C.K.’s house was located in a community that was affected by these wildfires. All families were asked to evacuate.  Jas and I were in Dallas when we heard about the evacuation order.  Jas immediately called C.K. to offer our place as a temporary refuge. However Jas learned C.K. had left early that morning for Atlanta because he had made a commitment to speak at the Atlanta TiE chapter and did mpot want to disappoint them. Despite his home and belongings being in serious jeopardy, C.K. left stating,  “It’s all in God’s hand. I have complete trust.”


C.K. was a rarity among academics and management thinkers: a capable strategist who was not only tough but also comfortable with exhibiting a human side to him full of compassion, sincerity and integrity.


C.K. was a genius when it came to using his persuasion skills. I experienced it firsthand. When C.K. visited in the Fall of 2005, he aired his views about TiE; the inflection point the organization was at and the challenges that lay ahead. He also shared his vision on how the TiE brand should evolve. He advocated a single organization with an oversight of the entire network. He was planting the seeds to eventually persuade me to take on the leadership role for this institutional building process. I remember his exact words when he was pitching the idea for me to assume the role at TiE Global. C.K. said “When all is said and done, there has to be purpose larger than focus on ourselves.  There comes a point in an individual’s life when it is time to give back and make a difference to our collective humanness.”  These words hold true in my mind long after he is gone. They linger in my consciousness and impact much of what I have done since then.


C.K. had a special knack of making what seems impossible possible. I started my journey as the CEO of TiE Global thinking it would only be for eighteen months and it turned into a four and a half year journey with CK!


C.K. was gracious and a perfect gentleman but also a person with strong convictions.  I remember a meeting in 2001 with 20-25 leaders from various locations and countries attempting to get an agreement on how best to move forward in terms of governance of an umbrella organization they were trying to create.  A discussion of term limits ensued and an individual who also happened to be a founder of this entity opposed the idea.  CK patiently listened to him and then told him with warmth and a smile “my friend, even George Washington could not be President for Life.”  C.K. explained it was important for an organization to grow and remain vibrant. There should be a clear mechanism for an infusion of fresh blood.  After a brief discussion, everyone in the room agreed with C.K. and his idea was embraced as policy.  This anecdote is an example of C.K.’s clarity of thought, his belief in the democratic system, on addressing issues in a fair manner and the ability to influence and persuade persons who had a chance to engage with him.


In retrospect, C.K.’s passion and ideals were infectious. He defied convention to challenge a new way of thinking. He spoke to business leaders, political leaders, and academics with a flair and style that was refreshing and powerful. C.K. reminds us it always seems impossible until it is done. CK was a family man and wonderful human being, always kind and approachable.  We still feel the loss of his presence. More importantly, by remembering him we celebrate the extraordinary legacy and life he left behind.