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'Prahalad truly believed India will become a leader of the world'

April 17, 2010 20:30 IST

Dr C K Prahalad, one of the world's most renowned management gurus, passed away in San Diego, United States on Friday

Chairman and Managing Director of TVS Capital Funds Ltd Gopal Srinivasan was a student of Prahalad at the University of Michigan. In a tribute to his guru, he remembers how Prahalad had imagined India@75.

I met C K Prahalad when I was a student at the University of Michigan in 1981. When I first ran into this 40 year old intense-looking person, he said to me, "You may not know who I am but I know who you are and what you are going to do this summer for your family business and to make India better."  That was my first interaction with this great man.

He was always the winner of the best teacher award at the university in every semester. He was an extraordinary teacher and in all his classes, we used to sit at the edge of the seat as there was a lot of excitement in the class. The way he used to challenge us with ideas was amazing, and he was always ready to be challenged by some of the top students.

He was such a great teacher that his was one class all of us looked forward to.
He taught us Competitive Strategy and one simple philosophy he had then itself was that India must regain its greatness and take its place in the world through capability and meritocracy. He was a huge believer in capability and meritocracy.

I had plenty of close student-teacher interactions with him at the university.  From 1986 till now, in the many trips he made to India, I have interacted with him and taken his advice on many TVS group companies.

He has been the founding director of TVS Capital Funds. It was he who advised me and helped me enter into private equity. I was closely associated with him from the time we founded TVS Capital Funds Ltd.

From Guru-Shishya, our bonding became more like a family and we all became members of an extended family.  I had a wonderful relationship with him and I will cherish it.

People know him as a great intellectual and the person who did so much to take India to the centre-stage. But more than that, I remember him as a wonderful mentor and friend. He was always there when I needed him.

In 1993, a year and a half after liberalisation happened, he started the Windsor Club with a small group of Indian businessmen in Bangalore. One idea behind the club was that there was an enormous globalisation of the market in every sphere. The second idea was that every company must become globally competitive to remain afloat not only in the world but in India too. He said then that the amount of wealth that will be developed in India could not be imagined.

When he said all this, everybody just nodded, not believing in what he said. They were apprehensive about Indian companies being competitive. Today, when you see Indian companies excelling in the world, and India becoming a market where everything is available, we know how right he was. What he said has become a reality.

In 2007, the Confederation of Indian Industry called him to speak about India@60. He said he would not speak about India@60 but would speak about India@75! The vision he painted was so compelling; Five hundred million skilled Indians and 200 million college graduates and Nobel Prize winners every year! That was his passion for India.

He felt that Indian companies are innovators, and that is why he got Arvind Eye Hospital and Jaipur Foot Centre into the public domain. He was never worried about the trickle down effect; he believed that if you educated 500 million Indians, they would create the wealth that is needed for the country.

The last speech he gave was in January when he delivered the Nani Palkiwala lecture. He asked then, 'We have got independence but have we got freedom?'

He believed that we would achieve freedom when every Indian has the right to education, health and a good job. He went on to say that what was needed was an enormous supply of product and services which only entrepreneurs can do. Entrepreneurs are the freedom fighters of today, he had said.

He was the best management thinker that India has ever had; he was also a person who truly believed that India can and will become a leader of the world.

As told to Shobha Warrier in Chennai