Not sure if you saw this in the business magazines, but the world of management consulting lost a giant last month with the passing of C.K. Prahalad. Prahalad, who died April 6 at 68, was one of the most respected voices we had on the subjects of management strategy and corporate visioning. During his 33-year career as a business philosopher, professor, and consultant, Prahalad developed theories that became commonplace and part of conventional wisdom over time.
In 1990, he popularized the notion that companies should focus on their “core competence” – today, most companies use that as a beacon for their own strategic direction. In 2004, he proposed that businesses pay attention to the billions of potential customers at the “bottom of the pyramid” – today, this represents exactly what many companies are trying to do on a global scale. Lately, he had been arguing that greater attention be paid to customers – he identified the trend that customers would want a larger voice in what they consume… and this too has caught on as a management tactic over the last several years.
Prahalad was born in India in 1941, and was one of nine children. His father was a judge, and encouraged his fascination with business from an early age. Prahalad studied at the Indian Institute of Management, and then received a Ph.D. from Harvard, before becoming a professor of strategy at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. However, it was his work as a business consultant that made him a sought-after (and highly paid) confidant of CEOs and Boards all around the world. Some of his best books include: Competing for the Future (w/ Gary Hamel, 1994), The Future of Competition (with Venkat Ramaswamy, 2004), and The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty through Profits, 2004. His last book, co-authored with M. S. Krishnan is called The New Age of Innovation, 2008.
Among C.K. Prahalad’s last works was an April, 2010 article in the Harvard Business Review. The last sentence of that article nicely summed up his decades-long advice for leaders: “executives are constrained not by resources, but by their imagination.” For those students, colleagues and clients who were lucky enough to have worked with Dr. Prahalad over the years, I’m sure this quote sounds familiar. Hopefully, we can all heed his advice as we help our organizations achieve the kind of productive, socially responsible contribution that C.K. Prahalad advocated throughout his career.