An influential global business thinker. A trusted adviser to political leaders in India. One of the most beloved teachers at the University of Michigan. These are just some of words used to describe C.K. Prahalad. Prahalad was twice ranked the world’s most influential business thinker in 2007 and 2009, by the “Thinkers 50”—a list of the top 50 management thought leaders in the world published by the leadership consulting firm CrainerDearlove.
Coimbatore Krishnarao Prahalad was born in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu—one of nine children. He earned a degree in physics from the University of Madras and went on to receive a post-graduate diploma in business administration from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, in 1966. He followed that with a doctor of business administration from Harvard Business School in 1975.
Prahalad started his academic career at the University of Michigan in 1977, spending the next 30-plus years in the business education field. In 1990, Prahalad cemented his place in the corporate strategy and management world when he and Gary Hamel co-authored an article in the Harvard Business Reviewtitled, “The Core Competence of the Corporation.” In this influential article, Prahalad and Hamel encouraged corporate executives to “identify, cultivate, and exploit the core competencies that make growth possible.” In their 1994 book, Competing for the Future, Prahalad and Hamel analyzed how established market leaders tend to lose ground to innovative upstarts. The book famously showcased how IBM was blindsided by Apple, failing to see the future of the personal computer because it was too focused on maintaining its leadership in the mainframe business.
In 2004, Prahalad and Venkat Ramaswamy published The Future of Competition—advancing the notion of “co-creation” and envisioning a world where businesses and consumers collaborated in designing products and services for greater customization.
Considered a must-read to understand emerging markets, Prahalad’s 2005 book, The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits, explored how businesses might pursue sustainable growth while playing a role in alleviating poverty.
Prahalad’s final book The New Age of Innovation: Driving Co-Created Value Through Global Networks, was co-written with M.S. Krishnan. It examines how companies can build organizational capabilities that allow them to achieve and sustain continuous change and innovation.
In addition to his body of work, Prahalad has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors. Some of these include the Distinguished University Professor award in 2005—the University of Michigan’s highest distinction; the Faculty Pioneer Lifetime Achievement Award from the Aspen Institute for contributions to social and environmental stewardship; and the Lal Bahadur Shastri Award for Excellence in Management, in 2000, presented by the President of India. He also served on several boards, including of NCR Corporation, Hindustan Unilever Limited, and TVS Capital.
Prahalad passed away in San Diego, California on April 16, 2010, at the age of 68. He is survived by his wife Gayatri, his son Murali, his daughter Deepa, and three grandchildren.