The Man who would Influence Eternity

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”  – Henry Brooks Adams

Sitting in CK Prahalad’s Business Strategy lecture in IIMA during the late 70s, did we know that we were part of a period in management history created by our legendary professor? Over the years, CK, as we fondly referred to him, became friend and guide and was consistently voted amongst the top 50 global business thinkers and topped the 2009 list ahead of Michael Porter, Malcolm Gladwell, Bill Gates and others.

CK saw the world differently from all of us. His ability to simplify complexity and to reveal the significance of what we all knew instinctively was awe inspiring. Once he invited wives of Hindustan Unilever Board members to a Board meeting. His enthusiasm in talking about the business of HUL to them was unparalleled; I can’t think of anyone else who could draw such insights from their refreshing naivety about the business.

CK was a contrarian thinker happiest when challenging the status quo. If he thought he had found his comfort zone, it was time for him to move on. Bottom of the Pyramid is perhaps the best example of this contrarian thinking. Nobody could think that the poor of the world would make the best consumers.  Striking out against the dominant logic is what made him such a great teacher; he was looking beyond the class room. He often said his goal was to give students a perspective and if that made a small difference to the way they approach their life then that was good enough for him.

CK believed very strongly in family and over the years we became part of Gayatri and Prahalad’s extended family. Our stay in his beautiful San Diego house was like being home, pampered by Gayatri and stimulated with thoughts and ideas by CK. It remains our best memory of him. His father was his role model and had inspired this eternal quest for answers to difficult questions. We could see how he was trying to pass it on to his children Deepa and Murli.

There are not many who believe in India with the same passion as did CK and indeed Gayatri, Deepa and Murli. He spoke about his vision of India with the zeal of an evangelist and always left us inspired and invigorated.

We are not going to think about going to my son’s graduation Boston month and not seeing him there.

We will remember him with this line:

“ Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail behind”

Kamini and Vindi Banga

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