Renu Khator and CK Prahalad

Renu Khator

Perhaps the biggest joy for me in pre-Diwali news reports have been the information about two American Indians who have been awarded or rewarded for their outstanding work in their respective areas.

On last Monday, the Board of Regents of the University of Houston officially confirmed Renu Khator, 52, as its next chief executive. The University of Houston system, with a faculty of more than 3,000 and a student enrolment of 50,000-plus, is one of the nation’s biggest.

Renu is a small town girl, born in 1955 in Farrukhabad. Her father, Satish Chandra Maheshwari was a successful lawyer in the town. Renu studied in Mission School, Farrukhabad and graduated from the NAKP Degree College (affiliated to Kanpur University) in the town and later went to Allahabad University.

When her father settled the marriage, Renu was studying at Allahabad University in MA Part-1. Renu was against marrying without finishing her post-graduation. She went on a hunger strike. But her would-be husband Suresh Khator promised to help her pursue higher studies. And he kept the promise.

When Khator first came to the US in 1974 as a young bride, her English was poor. Her husband, Suresh Khator, an engineering student at Purdue University, translated for her while she was interviewed by the dean for school admission. She made the cut, earned high grades while learning the language from re-runs of “I Love Lucy” and “The Andy Griffith Show”, and never looked back.
Renu took up a temporary position, but in two decades worked her way to become provost at the university. On Monday, the Houston Chronicle observed that ”Khator spoke without using notes, and her easy eloquence seemed to impress all who met the university’s 13th president.”

Renu’s success story par excellence and shows what complimentary husband and wife can achieve.

CK Prahalad

Thinkers 50, an annual ranking of the top 50 management thought leaders in the world, has crowned C K Prahalad, professor at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M Ross School of Business, the greatest management thinker alive.

In this year’s Thinkers 50 – released in London on Wednesday – Prahalad (No. 3 last year) has trumped the likes of former US Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, strategy guru Michael Porter and Microsoft founder Bill Gates to emerge as No. 1.

Prahalad’s work with Gary Hamel set the strategic agenda of the 1990s. Now, with ”The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid”, he has established the social, entrepreneurial and economic agenda of our times,” said Stuart Crainer and Des Dearlove of Suntop Media, the organisation which brings out the Thinkers 50 ranking.

C K Prahalad is known to set the tone in whichever area he ventures into. In 1990 he coined the term ”core competence” with Gary Hamel, an idea that emphasises that companies should stick to their core strengths. In 2004, with his book ”The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid”, he nudged multinational firms to look at the vast untapped opportunity that lies in serving the world’s 5 billion poor. And from there, CK set his sights on the idea of ”co-creation” or how companies can involve customers in the innovation process in a book he co-wrote with his colleague Venkat Ramaswamy.

One magazine called him a ”One Man Idea Lab”.

While going through the story of CK Prhalad, I came across the names of a number of Indian management gurus: Three Indians in the top 50: CEO coach Ram Charan at No. 22 (up from No. 24 last year), innovation guru Vijay Govindarajan of the Tuck Business School at No. 23 (No. 31 last year); and Harvard’s Rakesh Khurana at No. 45 (No. 33 last year). Other names in the news reporting CK’s selection were of Jagdish Sheth, professor of marketing at Emory University’s Goizueta School of Business; Nirmalya Kumar, professor of marketing at London Business School; Bala Balachandran, professor at Kellogg School of Management; and Venkat Ramaswamy, professor at the Ross School of Business and also co-author of ‘The Future of Competition’.

And then some disturbing questions crop up in my mind: Why have so many of management thinkers gone to UK or US? Could have they risen so high in India? Why do we not hear or know the names of some distinguished management thinkers working in India? Is it because Indian corporate houses don’t hear them till they are not connected to US institutions? Why do media never talk about some of their outstanding works? Could Renu attain the same position here in India?

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