Home >Opinion >Online Views >Do management gurus make good executives?

Tata Sons announced this morning—and the Economic Times, a newspaper with which the company and the group of which it is the holding company have fought a running battle, scooped the story in the morning’s paper—that it was hiring Nirmalya Kumar, the well-known professor of marketing at London Business School and one of the world’s foremost management gurus.

Kumar, a statement from the company said, would be part of chairman Cyrus Mistry’s A-team, joining the likes of Mukund G. Rajan, the head of branding, communication, CSR, and ethics, former BSE CEO Madhu Kannan, who has rapidly emerged a sort of ADC to Mistry, and N.S. Rajan, the EY partner who was named head of group HR recently.

The larger issue is Kumar’s appointment.

Few management gurus have been willing to jump into “line" roles that require them to actually run something.

And few companies have been willing to hire a consultant in an executive role (although most are willing to shell out more money to seek their counsel).

There’s nothing to suggest Kumar won’t do well. Then again, a day job does limit an executive’s horizon and isn’t exactly conducive to lateral thinking.

The late great C.K. Prahalad’s first job (before he went off to do bigger and better things) was as a sort of executive assistant to CEO M.K. Raju (a man credited with having pioneered management consulting in India) at India Pistons Ltd. He also doubled up as a training manager and, in the 1960s, India Pistons was among the first companies in the country to launch a management trainee programme, and also train managers using management games. People who worked at India Pistons at the time remember Prahalad as doing a great job.

The case of Kumar and Tata is a little different. The marketing guru has spent his career in academics and it will be interesting to see how he does in his new role.

Who knows, if it works for him and Tata, it may well set off a healthy trend.

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