The CK Prahalad Distinguished Scholar-Practitioner Award, introduced in 2011, was created to honor the legacy of CK Prahalad. The award recognizes excellence in the application of theory and research in practice. These include but are not limited to contributions to knowledge through the extraction of learning from practice; authored scholarly works that have substantively affected the practice of management; and/or the integration of research and practice.
A scholar-practitioner who has used applied learning to influence how theory and research guide practice is honored by this award. Special attention will be given to a scholar-practitioner whose contributions have shaped the understanding of global strategic leadership.
The recipient of this award is selected by a committee presided over by the SMS past president. Nominations are accepted throughout the year. The deadline for this award is March 31st of each year. To submit a nomination, please send an email with your nominee and recommendation text to the SMS Executive Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CK Prahalad reached across boundaries and expanded possibilities with his uncompromising emphasis on impactful research. Although his academic career was stellar, his work had an even greater impact on corporate leaders. Through a series of breakthrough ideas, his research changed the business world and helped improve people's lives.
We are honored to present this year’s CK Prahalad Distinguished Scholar Practitioner Award to Harbir Singh of the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
Harbir Singh is the William and Phylllis Mack Professor of Management and Co-Director of the Mack Center for Technological Innovation at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
Harbir’s research centers on managing alliances and acquisitions, corporate governance, and business development, with his relational view and work on the dedicated alliance function being some of the most influential in alliance research. His work has been published in the Strategic Management Journal, the Academy of Management Review, the Academy of Management Journal, Organization Science, Administrative Science Quarterly, and other leading journals as well as in practitioner outlets such as the Harvard Business Review and Sloan Management Review, and is among the most cited work in the field of strategic management. His book ‘Strategic Leader’s Roadmap’, which integrates strategy and leadership principals, has greatly inspired executives, as did his books ‘Fortune Makers – The Leaders Creating China’s Great Global Companies’ and the ‘India Way’, which illustrate how these principles have been applied in these emerging economies. Harbir’s practical advice in articles such as ‘How to make Strategic Alliances Work’ served as a template for implementation and guided executives in many companies, some of which invited Harbir to advise them as a consultant. In almost four decades of teaching in executive education programs at the Wharton School and engaging in open and customized programs at leading companies such as Daimler Benz, Philips, Accenture, the Tata Group, Aditya Birla Group, and Nissan, Harbir has brought together academic rigor and managerial relevance, and shaped the perspectives of executives in the United States, Europe and Asia, underscoring the ‘human element’ and the nurturing of soft managerial skills.
Harbir will be recognized this fall at the SMS Annual Conference. As a recipient of the award, he will also be organizing a session for the conference!
We have conducted a short interview with Harbir, as this year's recipient. Click below to see his answers.
In my view strategic management is a field primarily exploring applied problems in strategy: as examples, what decisions or assts or strategies drive superior returns, how firms gain and lose competitive advantage, why are some leaders and firms more entrepreneurial than others, and why do some teams create more value than others. I am a big proponent of high-quality empirical research, including the more recent use of randomized control trials, or the newer work on controlling for unobserved heterogeneity or sampling issues. But I also believe that the field is really exciting today with the wealth of research questions related to exploring performance differences between firms, strategic leaders and their organizational capabilities.
I leave it to others to judge impact, but I do understand the thrust of your question. All my research has been driven by unusual observations on underlying phenomena, then identifying an empirical research design that may successfully address the question. I keep a close eye on the opportunity to add to theory or to test a key element of theory in the research. I also want to give credit to my co-authors who have been instrumental and moving the agenda forward. A case of clear and successful application involves the idea of alliance capability (and related acquisition capability) that my co-authors Prashant Kale, Maurizio Zollo and I conceptualized and found predictors for. Later work confirmed the key roles of knowledge codification, but also of the role of tacit knowledge and how it can be nurtured. Other scholars found convergent results by and large, and now there is later work on limits to value of codified knowledge. Many leading consulting firms include playbooks for managing transactions, and some companies in the field with whom we did work successfully improved their record with transactions related to inorganic growth and retrenchment.
I have always enjoyed the world of knowledge application in practice. I have interacted with managers in different roles – one as Co-Director of the Mack Institute for Innovation, where we have several member organizations that nominate executives to work on innovation related issues with the institute. Another interaction with managers has been in field work related to some books that relate to applications of strategic management. An example is the field work Dovev Lavie and I did on whether manager in a firm with multiple alliances are in fact aware of the other network connections of their firm and their partners (and the answer was, many did not have a clear idea of the network connections). A third one which has been very meaningful has been field work with decision makers preceding a large sample empirical piece of research. My work has tended to be relatively focused on inorganic modes of growth by firms, and so the firms and settings targeted tend to be quite focused. Along with two co-authors, Mike Useem and Peter Cappelli and in some cases additional authors, I have had the very interesting opportunity to explore systematic features of strategic leadership as reported by respondents in different economies such as India, China and the U.S. Two books have arisen from this strand of work, written for audiences of both academics and practitioners.
In terms of an existence proof, it is clear that consulting firms bring value given the continued increase in their growth and scale. Many now have activities that relate to knowledge creation as well, rich in application but at a mid-range in terms of rigor in sampling and inferential methods. In some instances, academics have been able to work with consulting firms using data or settings that consultants have access to. At least in my case I have mostly connected with executives around specific research questions to do some preliminary research to help define an academic study more tightly while grounding it in an applied setting. Such conversations bring a lot of value to companies as they help conceptualize strategic issues in a more reduced form, with fewer critical variables and also by helping decision makers look for more generalizable insights on issues they face. Another area of value added is to use empirical research as a baseline to understand central tendencies of a sample of firms, and asking decision makers to consider how they might relate specifically to the general population – and hence what might be the insight for them.
Scholars bring three specific skills to executive education. The first is skill as presenters of specialized knowledge. The concepts in my view are the same, they just need to be adapted to an audience of lifelong learners and the way they conceptualize their challenges. A second skill is the ability to provide a broader, industry- or economy- wide view of the phenomenon of interest. Academic research, when aggregated in particular ways, can serve as a set of baselines that decision makers can find very useful. A third skill that takes some development is in identifying where the greatest curiosity lies at the level of the audience. And that can be used to provide an entry point or a mode of engagement – but it is important to stay true to the empirical evidence where available – and in some cases the most impactful ideas are counter-intuitive. One also has to attempt to create or facilitate a culture of inquiry, where there may be some questions that are resolved while others remain open for future reference.
I have tended to write research-based articles and books that have a practitioner orientation. For instance, one of the articles used in courses on strategy relates to the choice between acquisition and alliance as a mode of inorganic growth. Here, my co-authors, Prashant Kale and Jeff Dyer and I presented a framework of choice that included ideas of interdependence in activities between trading partners, the degree of uncertainty with respect to returns, the role of physical versus intangible assets, and the nature of firm level competencies that firms possess in managing in particular types of transactions. We used several examples to illustrate matches with the framework, and mismatches as a way to elucidate the ideas. The determining factors of the framework were based on theoretical ideas as well as fieldwork and extant empirical work. This paper, which appeared in the Harvard Business Review, certainly gave us as authors a lot of satisfaction and it is our understanding that this has been used quite widely. The difference between academic and practitioners at least for me is in the breadth of the questions, as well as the need for more multivariate frameworks.
Overall, it is a privilege and an honor to receive this recognition from the Strategic Management Society. I am most grateful.