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The best business thinkers

  • Story Highlights
  • New study ranks top 50 living business gurus
  • Three of top five are business school professors
  • At number one is C. K. Prahalad, one of three Indians in list
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By Peter Walker for CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Who shapes the future of business, and thinking about business? The executives in the boardroom, winning handsome returns for shareholders?

Pondering on business: Rodin's famous sculpture The Thinker.

Yes, to a great extent. However, a new league table of the world's top living business gurus makes the case for another influence as being even stronger -- that of thinkers and professors at business schools.

Of the top five people listed in the Thinkers 50, a once every two year ranking of influential management innovators compiled by a group of companies and media organizations, three are based at business schools.

And while the rest of the list is littered with famous corporate names such as Bill Gates, Alan Greenspan, Jack Welch and Richard Branson, the majority is made up of people known little to the wider public but revered throughout the business world.

At the very top of the tree in the newly-released 2007 version of the list, up from third in the 2005 table, is C.K. Prahalad, the Indian-born professor of corporate strategy at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business.

Prahalad, who began his working life managing an Indian battery plant for Union Carbide, is best known as a highly influential thinker on corporate strategy, and has more recently turned his attention to ways to help poor people around the world.

"If we stop thinking of the poor as victims or as a burden, and start recognizing them as resilient and creative entrepreneurs, a whole new world of opportunity will open up," he says on the issue.

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This thinking had cemented Prahalad's reputation, said Stuart Crainer and Des Dearlove of Suntop Media, which brings out the Thinkers 50.

"Not many management thinkers actually follow up important early ideas with genuinely groundbreaking future ideas," they said.

In second and third place respectively come Microsoft founder Gates -- whose influence is seen as even greater now he has expanded into huge-scale philanthropy -- and Greenspan, U.S. Federal Reserve chairman until last year.

Greenspan leaps a notable 32 places from his place in the 2005 rankings, in large part, the researchers say, because "The Age of Turbulence," his recently-published memoir, "strikes a chord with businesspeople around the world."

The rest of the top five is made up of, firstly, Michael Porter, who topped the 2005 table, and then Gary Hamel, who worked closely with Prahalad in developing their ideas about business strategy.

Porter, based at Harvard Business School and also founder of a highly regarded consulting group, is a prolific author whose ideas is mainly based around analysis of competition, notably competitive positioning.

Fact Box

FT MBA Rankings
1. Wharton, U.S.
2. Columbia, U.S.
3. Harvard, U.S.
4. Stanford GSB, U.S.
5. London Business School, UK
6. Chicago GSB, U.S.
7. Insead, France/Singapore
8. Stern, NYU, U.S.
9. Tuck, Dartmouth, U.S.
10. Yale, U.S.
Source: Financial Times 2007

The process of compiling the Thinkers 50 begins with a poll of businesspeople, academics and MBA students around the world, with a long list of contenders whittled down to around 80. These are then assessed and ranked on 10 criteria, including originality and influence of ideas, as well as their so-called "guru factor."

The 2007 list remains dominated by North Americans, who take 37 of the top 50 spots.

However, India's status as a major emerging force in the global economy is highlighted by the fact that it produces four entrants; as well as Prahalad, CEO coach Ram Charan (22), and Vijay Govindarajan of the Tuck Business School (23) and Harvard's Rakesh Khurana (45).

China has yet to match this, although the 50 contains one Korean, W. Chan Kim of top French-Singaporean business school Insead, ranked joint sixth, and at 27, Japanese guru Kenichi Ohmae.

However, to be a business guru it helps greatly to be male, with only three women in the top 50, down from four in 2005. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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