Remembering Dr CK Prahalad
Dr C K Prahalad, the renowned Management Guru passed away recently leaving behind a legacy of unmatched management insights and lessons. Dr Prahalad was serving as Paul and Ruth McCracken Distinguished University Professor of Strategy at University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business . A renowned teacher, a prolific author and an accomplished corporate strategist, Dr Prahalad’s contribution to the world of management is incomparable.
What set apart Dr Prahalad from the rest of the academic stalwarts was the practicality of his insights. He was one of the few academicians whose research and insights were tested and verified in the real world of management. His contributions range from breakthrough insights on core competence, strategic intent, co-creation, competitive strategy, bottom of pyramid marketing and innovation.
Dr Prahalad came into cynosure of management thinking during 1990s after a path breaking article “ The Core Competence of Organisations “ published in Harvard Business Review. Dr Prahalad and Gary Hamel advocated the importance of understanding the importance of core competencies and using the core competencies for growth. The insight that Prahalad and Hamel proposed inspired many firms to direct their energies to build their businesses based on the core –competency rather than go for mindless expansion of business. The idea of core-competence was a revelation for many American firms who were struggling from the onslaught of focused Japanese firms.
Competing for the Future and Strategic Intent
Dr Prahalad and Gary Hamel further expanded the idea of core-competency to competitive strategy where the authors reminded business leaders about the importance of understanding the competitive environment while charting the business strategies.
The concept of strategic intent was another gem of an insight from Prahalad and Hamel. According to the authors, it is important for firms to understand the strategic intent of the competitors while formulating the strategies. Most of the firms are so fixated about the immediate impact of competition that they fail to understand the long-term vision of their competitors. The authors narrate the stories of how Japanese firms outsmarted the western counterparts by incrementally growing within the market. The US firms failed to understand the long-term plans of Japanese firms and thus did not respond against the slow and steady growth and ultimately paid the price of losing market share.
Bottom of Pyramid
Although Dr CK Prahalad brought into light some of the path-breaking management insights, his thoughts on marketing to Bottom of Pyramid remained as the highlight of his life’s work.
Dr CK Prahalad created a huge impact on the way marketers looked at people at the lower income strata. In the path breaking book “ The Fortune at the Bottom of Pyramid “, Dr Prahalad dispelled many myths about the poor and convinced businesses to look at poor people as a profitable market opportunity.
According to Dr.CK, poor live in an expensive high cost sub-economies. Poor does not have access to easy credit. If at all they get access, they pay 50-60 % annual interest and outrageous terms and conditions. Dr CK wants marketers not to perceive that being poor mean using cheap products. These consumers actually pay more for certain services compared to those living in a richer environment. For example, Pre-paid mobile service cards are popular among the poor consumers. Although the denominations of these recharge coupons seems low, the consumers actually pay upfront for the talk time and in most of the cases, they do not get the talk time for the full amount paid.
Another myth about poor that Dr Prahalad wanted to dispel is that consumers at the bottom of pyramid are not willing to pay for innovations. Dr CK argues that poor consumers are willing to pay for those innovations that are relevant to them. But marketers often try to sell to poor consumers those innovations that are relevant only to higher income strata.
Dr Prahalad reflects the importance of marketers to really understand the need of this segment of society, then innovate specific products for them rather than push irrelevant product/services to them. The rich always tried to make decisions for the poor. Poor should be given the choice to purchase products that they need. Let the market decide what these poor people need. The poor consumers spent lot of money on products and services. Marketers should focus on improving poor’s quality of life rather than sell expensive products to them.
The works and insights of Dr CK Prahalad will remain eternal. Business and Management world will miss this thinker and strategist and his invaluable practical insights.