Sidin Vadakut wrote in a column in India’s leading business paper Mint recently: “Forget all the outcry over the epics and ancient India, modern India seems replete with untold stories. Start there.”
The book on late Prof. C K Prahalad, known as CK to his friends and CKP in the academic world, does just that. Titled ‘CK Prahalad: The Mind of the Futurist – Rare Insights on Life, Leadership and Strategy,’ that I had the good fortune to write is scheduled for launch all over India this month! What are these untold stories? Why are they so hugely significant to India and to the world of business and Management?
This book is a mélange of anecdotes strung together by a strong thread, which is, a missionary zeal and an insatiable drive of a man to make an impact in whatever he did.
India’s business history after the historic and forced reforms of 1991 is yet to be written. A few books that have been published in recent years talk mostly about imagining India’s potential to become an economic super power and how it can get there in a decade or two. Some talk about the miraculous success story of Indian information technology and the business process outsourcing sector. And a few others discuss pockets of excellence and outstanding leadership of a few extraordinary individuals.
A Wharton School book titled the ‘India Way’ – talks of how Indian business leaders have applied the best of the Western and Eastern business and management philosophies to evolve their own style, which the authors say, has been responsible for the rapid strides Indian businesses have made in the last 20 years both at home and abroad.
Ask any audience who comes to their mind when they are asked – who do you credit India’s economic achievements since 1991 to? It’s either Dr. Manmohan Singh or Mr. Chidambaram and a few brave ones would give Mr. Narasimha Rao a good share of credit as well. But with India still ranked above 60 in ease of doing business, a shameful 135 in global human development index and home to world’s largest number of very poor – some 400 million, it is very tempting to be pessimistic and negative about India.
Even I belonged to this audience until I heard some six top CEOs speak at CK’s first memorial in August 2011 at Loyola College, Chennai. What was common among these CEOs? They were all slapped, ‘punched in the gut’ – like K V Kamath, Chairman of ICICI Bank says, and then coached to aspire big and not get intimidated by the constraints around them. ‘It’s not lack of resources that holds people back, it is lack of resourcefulness/or aspiration,” CK would tell them.
The untold story about modern Indian business history is – How a majority of Indian business leaders, who are who’s who of Indian businesses’ pecking order, were either directly or indirectly coached and influenced by CK.
This did not happen overnight. After the reforms were unleashed, CK was aghast and disgusted to see the way the same business leaders act like how feudal lords would when a big king came marching with an army. They were scared of losing their shirt and were happy to give protection money to the king if they were allowed to operate in their old ways.
CK had a clear plan – he invited 30 odd ‘feudal lords’ to Bangalore in 1994 to ITC Windsor Manor hotel and locked them up for three days. In these three days, he launched what could be India’s only inquisition – He asked then the following questions – Do you have any pride left in yourselves leave alone pride in your country? Are all the dreamers dead in this country? Can you fight the multinationals with the same weapons they use to put you down or shouldn’t you be figuring out your own unique methods? Haven’t you read history where small motivated bands have defeated big armies? Didn’t you know India was the second richest country only 300 years ago after China? And, you have no hope if you don’t think and work as a country instead of bickering among yourselves.
CK made the leaders believe that only thinking big and folding the future in could not only save them but make them global players. He did this because he innately believed in the inner strength of Indians as a race to fight back during tough times – in a way he stoked the fire in them and kindled the animal spirits of Indian entrepreneurs.
He didn’t leave it at that. Every year, painstakingly, he got together between 30 and 50 top business leaders and professional CEOs to attend his CEO sessions. He believed that just kindling the animal spirits was not enough, they need to be guided and coached for maximum impact. He did this until 2009. He was scheduled to follow it up in January 2010 as well, but his poor health forced him to cancel it. CK died a few months later at only 68.
The book has a chapter on global impact as well. It includes how CK helped transform a sick Philips into a global giant and how he made a profound impact on NCR Corp, Unilever, Microsoft India and many others. There is a chapter which is a critique of all his published work which will be of big help to those who want to tap into his management mind.
What CK has left behind is a treasure trove for all, enough to inspire anyone with a bit of risk taking spirit, taste for contrarian thinking and a heart to make an impact in whatever they did.
This book is not only for business leaders, there are enough and more inspirational stuff for students, teachers and executives and anyone who enjoys reading about the life journey of a man who made it big on the global stage despite coming from a small town in India.
Whenever India’s modern business history is written, this book will ensure that CK finds a prominent place in it.
The book is published by Westland and is available as e-books as well.