How did Lalu Prasad Yadav make a success story of the loss-making Indian Railways? "If you do not milk the cow fully, it falls sick," a beaming ‘Professor Lalu’ told students of Harvard and Wharton business schools. If the young scholars had braced for some management jargons, they haven't know Lalu well enough. The analogy of the cow wasn't lost on the students: if only the railways had been milked to its true potential, it would never had slipped into losses.
But the students didn't get the minister get away with his Laluisms. Kunal Singh, a Harvard student from Patna asked him if he could do it for the Railways, why didn't he set right Bihar during the 15 years that his party was in power. If Lalu was flustered, he didn't show it.
The minister told Kunal that Bihar had far too many problems - perennial floods, the naxalite menace and low per capita income - and none of these had easy solutions. The state needs a big boost from outside but with the Railways, it was another story, he said. It was a sprawling empire with tremendous potential.
Lalu, whose answers in Hindi were translated, told them how he had managed to debunk the "western management theory", which says that loss-making enterprises should be privatised and their employees sent out to cut costs. His turnaround strategy was based on the principles of achieving higher volumes by reducing tariff.
Another student asked him if his model for the Railways was sustainable and would last even after his exit from the ministry. Lalu explained that the roadmap for the organisation's future had been drawn up and "a stamp put on it".
A student from Pakistan wanted to know if he would ever become the Prime Minister of India. "I told him my plan is on hold. What's the hurry? I'm still young though my hair is all grey," he later told mediapersons.
The 137 management students — 100 from Harvard and the rest from Wharton — seemed to have enjoyed the railway minister's hour-long presentation. The session was held at the Rail Museum where the students were taken around the steam locomotives.