Print this article

Deepa Prahalad to take her father's legacy forward

Last updated on: July 12, 2010 13:39 IST

As a rule, when Tarun Das speaks, he is to be taken seriously. The exception occurs when the Confederation of Indian Industry's former chief mentor says that Deepa Prahalad is a clone of her father's.

Deepa's father, Coimbatore Krishnarao Prahalad, who died April 16, was one of the world's top management thinkers. He was also the grim preacher. He spoke with a deadpan expression and without any voice modulation. Among the thousands of his published pictures, it will be difficult to find him smiling in one.

Deepa, on the other hand, is a charming 37-year-old who lets out an infectious laugh every other minute. She does just that when you ask if Prahalad ever smiled. "That is really shocking. He looked grim in all his pictures. But he had this great, dry sense of humour. He was a really fun person to hang out with and told great stories. I think my Mom had loosened him up," she says.

The genes, though, wouldn't stay quiet. They have dragged Deepa, who began her career researching how to increase efficiency in UN procurement and later moved to Singapore to become a commodities trader with Cargill, into business strategy, a field where her father shone the brightest for three decades.

Associated with RKS, a strategy and design consultancy, she has co-authored Predictable Magic: Unleash the Power of Design Strategy to Transform Your Business.

She is also closely working with CII to take forward her father's much-talked-about vision of 'India@75 : Creating an Inclusive India by 2022'.

Here, she stands apart from the clutch of daughters who have recently followed their famous fathers into their businesses.

The daughters of TVS group's Venu Srinivasan, Godrej's Adi Godrej, Future Group's Kishore Biyani, and Apollo Hospitals' Prathap Reddy have a ready corporate structure to receive them with open arms. For Deepa, there is only the legacy.

"Yes, there is no company, only his legacy and example, and the potential to drive change. There are also the many relationships he invested in," she says.

To her advantage, C K gave his children (Deepa's brother Murali is with Life Technologies, a biotechnology instrumentation company) good grounding from early on.

He did not let his children come to his lectures until they were grownups, but he made them read the drafts of his papers since they were 12 or 13. His intention was to make his ideas simple. "I heard him tell people that they should be able to understand his ideas easily because his children already had."

Growing up, Deepa was amazed by C K's obsession with data. He always checked if there was data to corroborate his ideas. He always valued logic over opinion, but he valued data above all.

"People would have accepted what he said because of who he was. But he believed he had no right to just have an opinion. There had to be validation through data. In fact, the more famous he became, the more research he did."

He worked the hardest on his most famous work, in which he told the world that there was fortune to be made at the bottom of the pyramid. He sent out students to study real cases.

This was a work that took shape from the bottom up, not from the CEOs down.

According to Deepa, C K, when he was working on The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profit, felt real responsibility because he was speaking for people who did not have a voice of their own.

How did C K cope with failure? Praja, the start-up he co-founded, created a product that was like a dashboard for executives - it allowed the management of a multinational company to see what was happening in various locations and figure out what the problems were.

The company went bust as the tech meltdown occurred in the early part of this century. "It was hard," recalls Deepa. But C K rebounded from the failure by coming up with some of his best work in the following years. These included The Future of Competition, and, of course, the bottom of the pyramid.

"He really turned it (the failure) into something positive," says Deepa. That is somewhat similar to what she is trying to do in the aftermath of her father's death.

Suveen K Sinha in New Delhi