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  • A Toast to Madhu Viswanathan

    Congratulations to our own Madhu Viswanathan for being named the Diane and Steven N. Miller Professor of Business at the University of Illinois. Madhu teaches an EMBA course during the second year entitled “Global Business Horizons and Sustainability.” The investiture ceremony is to be held on Friday, April 20th 2012 in Champaign. This honor is the latest feather in the cap in the long list of Madhu’s professional accomplishments.

    Madhu has blazed a pioneering trail in his research on poverty and subsistence markets by studying low-literate consumers in the U.S. and in subsistence marketplaces including India and other parts of the world. Billions of people around the world live in poverty, lacking the knowledge, skills, and self-confidence to improve their economic situation. The primary way out of these challenging circumstances is access to marketplace literacy. Madhu instituted the Subsistence Marketplaces Initiative at Illinois to do just that. In fact, the term “subsistence marketplaces” was coined by him. Subsistence marketplaces are markets in their own right. They are not just markets to sell to but an agglomeration of individuals, consumers, entrepreneurs, communities, and markets to learn from as well.

    Madhu’s research focus has been a significant departure from past research in marketing and the social sciences that has focused predominantly on literate, resource-rich individuals and societies. While there is some research on firm-level approaches on impoverished contexts as exemplified by the base of the pyramid approach in business strategy, Madhu’s approach is unique. He studies individual consumers in these markets thereby enabling bottom-up understanding of buyer, seller, and marketplace behaviors.  This micro-level perspective aims to enable subsistence marketplaces to move toward being ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable marketplaces. Madhu’s work has spawned off an impressive array of social initiatives

    An interesting aspect of Madhu’s research is that it has offered unparalleled access to international immersion opportunities for Illinois students, researchers, and executives to learn from subsistence markets. Through deep conversations with consumers and observations of people's lives, these opportunities encourage visitors to take a bottom-up perspective to understanding these marketplaces that complements the dominant top-down approach.  More importantly, such experiences encourage a mutual learning mindset where visitors can learn from people who are experts at survival.  Our experiences show that these bottom-up learning experiences to be life-changing, as visitors explore radically different contexts that shake their basic assumptions. 

    Madhu has received Department, College and University honors for his outstanding teaching achievements. Inc. magazine rated his course on subsistence markets as one of the top ten courses in the country. Each year, approximately 700 students at Illinois go through learning experiences on the broader topic of sustainability ranging from first-semester undergraduates to executives. The business school offers early and later integrative experiences on the broader topic of sustainability at all levels.  These initiatives have created opportunities for research and education in a wide range of disciplines.

    Congratulations to Madhu Viswanathan on a thoroughly deserving honor. We’re proud that Madhu Viswanathan is on our faculty.



    Larry DeBrock
    Josef and Margot Lakonishok Endowed Dean, College of Business and
    Professor of Business Administration and
    Professor of Economics