C.K. Prahalad, a Paul and Ruth McCracken Distinguished University Professor of Strategy in the Ross School of Business, passed away in San Diego, California Friday.
In an e-mail to the Ross community, Dean Bob Dolan said Prahalad died “after a brief illness.”
Prahalad, 68, was internationally recognized for his research in corporate strategy and the best ways top management can navigate the often-complex waters of running large, multinational corporations. At the University, Prahalad was a well-respected and deeply admired member of the community, both as an expert in his field and as a teacher.
Dolan said in an interview Saturday that Prahalad was a “quintessential” professor who pushed students and taught them to appreciate the resources available to them at the University.
“He was really terrific with the students in terms of setting an enormously high standard for them to follow,” Dolan said. “He really did have a way of transforming their lives. He really was a very special guy.”
Dolan said with Prahalad’s passing the University not only lost someone with an incredible personality, but also a man with a unique understanding of the impact of business.
“The very special thing about him was that he really had a very inspiring view of what business can do for the world,” Dolan said.
Dolan added that students who had the opportunity to work with Prahalad were truly fortunate.
“(You knew) you were going be a different person when you were done (with his class),” Dolan said. “You were going to have higher aspirations and more confidence in yourself.”
Prahalad was born in the Tamil Nadu province in southern India. His father was a well-known scholar and judge in Chennai, India. Prahalad earned a Bachelor of Science degree in physics at Loyola College and the University of Madras and received a postgraduate degree in business administration at the Indian Institute of Management. While in school, Prahalad worked as a manager of a Union Carbide Co. battery plant.
During his time at the Indian Institute of Management, Prahalad met his wife Gayatri, and the couple later had two children.
In 1975 Prahalad graduated from the Harvard Business School with a Doctor of Business Management and wrote his doctoral thesis on multinational management.
According to Business Week, Prahalad’s thesis was one of the first studies to claim corporations needed to restructure so that they could employ global strategies while addressing local concerns.
After graduating from Harvard, Prahalad went back to India to teach at the Indian Institute of Management for two years before joining the faculty at the Business School here at the University of Michigan in 1977.
In 1990, Prahalad and colleague Gary Hamel published “The Core Competence of Corporate Strategy” in The Harvard Business Review, which explained the idea of “core competency,” — a concept businesses now identify as a crucial factor in how they and their employees work.
Among Prahalad’s many publications, he had several international bestselling books, including “Competing for the Future,” “The Future of Competition” and “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty through Profits.”
Dolan spoke highly of “Fortune at the Bottom” and said the book has had a profound impact in the business world.
“(‘Fortune at the Bottom’) … is one of the most influential management books ever written,” he said.
The book offered new models for providing goods and services to people in third world countries. In the book, Prahalad claimed people at the “bottom of the pyramid,” who were often dismissed as outsiders of the international economy, were actually the future of the global market.
“If we stop thinking of the poor as victims or as a burden and start recognizing them as resilient and creative entrepreneurs and value-conscious consumers, a whole new world of opportunity will open up,” he wrote.
According to Dolan, Prahalad wanted to involve students in his research for “Fortune at the Bottom,” so he conducted 10 field-based projects through which students could “document phenomena throughout the world.”
A 2006 article in Business Week said the book “turned Prahalad into a celebrity in the field of international development.”
Throughout his career, Prahalad received a number of honors and awards. In 2009, he received the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman — an award given by the president of India to men and women who make exceptional and praiseworthy contributions in their respective fields. In the same year, the Indian government honored Prahalad with the Padma Bushan — the third highest civilian award in India — for his distinguished service to the nation. The Times of the United Kindom also named Prahalad the most influential business thinker on its The Thinkers 50 List in October 2009.