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Great Lakes Institute founder, management guru Balachandran passes away

Great Lakes not only made him an iconic figure in management education but also redefined the status of Tamil Nadu in the international academic arena

September 28, 2021 / 09:15 PM IST

Age is a mere number, quipped yesteryear Bollywood queen Hema Malini. If this requires any verification, take a peep into the life of Uncle Bala, as Bala V Balachandran was universally known, who passed away on September 27, aged 84.

At 60, people typically become senior citizens and quietly slip into oblivion. However, Balachandran turned into an iconic personality in the world of management education only after he became a senior citizen.

Today, the Great Lakes Institute of Management, which he founded in Chennai in 2004, is a globally acclaimed institution associated with big names within and outside the country and across diverse fields.

“Although we will miss him dearly, we shall carry him in our hearts and live by the value system that he built for us,” Great Lakes said in a Twitter post.

Balachandran had a solid academic background – a BSc (Hons.) in Mathematics, MA (Statistics) in 1961 and MSc in Applied Statistics. His teaching quest began in 1960 while he was a graduate student at Annamalai University in Chennai. In 1967, he moved to the University of Dayton. In 1971, he taught management courses while working on his doctorate at Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh.


Balachandran joined the Kellogg Graduate School of Management faculty in 1973 and chaired the Department of Accounting and Information Systems from 1979 to 1983. In 1984, he was appointed Distinguished Professor of Accounting and Information Systems and Decision Sciences. He was also director of the Accounting Research Center until 2006.

The founding of Great Lakes not only pitchforked him into an iconic figure in management education but also redefined the status of Tamil Nadu in the international academic arena. A proud Indian, Bala remained a global citizen, nevertheless. Everybody knew him as a great conversationalist. For many, he was a great teacher. Still others found him to be a connoisseur of music and art.

“Bala was a man with a mission, with extraordinary energy to accomplish his goal,” said R Seshasayee, who was the face of Ashok Leyland for many years. “When he spoke to me a few months before he launched Great Lakes, I was frankly sceptical whether he could pull it off in the scale that he had envisioned and in the short timeframe he had planned. He proved all sceptics wrong.”

“He was an extraordinary professor with deep insights in finance, accounting and strategy,” said B Santhanam, founder managing director of Saint Gobain India. “Over the decades, he reinvented himself to stay relevant and at the same time stay ahead of the curve.”

An amalgam of sharp analytical intelligence and entrepreneurship, Balachandran single-handedly created Great Lakes amid resource constraints and placed it on the global map. He was ahead of time all the time.

According to Sridhar Narayan, founder of the Grand Alliance for Management Excellence, Balachandran was perhaps the first to understand the importance of teaching data analytics back in 2012. Narayan, a former banker who joined Great Lakes, was closely associated with Balachandran. He always gave equal access to everybody and that quality endeared him to many, Narayan said.

That he could straddle both the Western and Indian worlds with effortless ease spoke of his ability to manage relationships with people of assorted sorts.

“Bala had made an important contribution to management education in India, particularly to Chennai,” said Venu Srinivasan, chairman of the TVS Group.

“His staunch faith in Kanchi Mahaperiyavaa and his ability to bring his whole self to all discussions was spectacular,” said Saundarya Rajesh, founder-president of Avtar. “He shared his knowledge, his contacts and his influence wholeheartedly.”

Asit Kumar Barma, director of Bharathidasan Institute of Management, remembers Balachandran for “his repertoire of jokes that he used to repeat in his speeches.”

Balachandran had the great quality of connecting with people and remembering their names. Srinivasan Viswanathan, former ED at TiE, Chennai, recalled the work done by him at Kellogg to promote interest in India among MBA students even in the 90s.

“In 2004, when he had just signed the lease for the Saidapet location, I walked into his office without an appointment just to thank him for bringing quality management education to Chennai. After that we spent two glorious hours chatting about everything on management,” he said.
KT Jagannathan is a senior journalist based in Chennai
first published: Sep 28, 2021 09:15 pm
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