, latterly professor of strategic leadership at the London Business School, who has died of a brain haemorrhage aged 55, was a brilliant and original thinker in a field which needs more of them. He used his intellect to understand organisations and to help managers to make them better places to work and greater forces for good. He also loved collaborating - with PhD students, faculty, even journalists, anyone with ideas to trade, in particular with his collaborator Chris Bartlett of Harvard University. "Boundaries never meant much to Sumantra," Bartlett noted.
All his work was grounded in observation. "You look at the phenomena with authenticity, respect, curiosity, speculation, the occasional journalistic privileges," Ghoshal once explained. For him, academics and journalists were observers - as he knew from experience, it was managers who did the hard work of wrestling with problems and decisions on the ground, and whatever they were doing, it was for a reason. The purpose of study was to understand those reasons and make it possible to alter the conditions that engendered them for the better.
It was this combination of empathy and extreme intelligence - laced with a strong dose of humour - that made him such a formidable and attractive performer. A wonderful teacher as well as researcher (provided collaborators could put up with a lot of walking about and smoke-filled rooms), he could make complex ideas available with equal fluency to management scholars or a roomful of chief executives, handling theory with flair and practice with rigour.
This is evident in his published works. As well as 12 books, including the ground-breaking Managing Across Borders (1989), The Individualised Corporation (1997), and many academic articles and case histories, Ghoshal and Bartlett were prolific contributors to Harvard Business Review, the manager's bible.
In a revealing and entertaining recorded discussion in 2000, Ghoshal and Bartlett traced how the focus of their work had zoomed steadily in from the general to the specific. Starting with the strategy of the firm, they then looked at issues of management within it, and finally the individual taking charge of his or her destiny.
It was from this least abstract platform - the individual human being - that the most powerful theoretical challenge, and the most controversial, emerged. The next project, ambitious even for him, was to rescue management practice from the blind alleys that it had run into by recasting management theory from the ground up. He saw today's disillusion with companies and managers as the fault of management theory - in particular the narrowly economic assumptions about human nature and the nature of companies that in practice cause managers to subvert themselves and their companies. Today's management theory, he summarised, was undersocialised and one-dimensional, a parody of the human condition more appropriate to a prison or a madhouse than an institution which should be a force for good.
At his death Ghoshal was mobilising forces for the mother of all intellectual battles with his usual gusto, pouring energy into the Advanced Institute for Management Research, of which he was a fellow. Despite the odds, few people who heard him transfix an audience of managers and other non-academics at a recent bravura presentation of his thesis would have bet against him carrying it off. Although it will be difficult without him, it is a tribute to his genius for collaboration that he leaves a network of co-workers determined to take the ideas forward.
Ghoshal was a Bengali, born in Calcutta. He took a BSc in physics at Delhi University and rose through the management ranks at Indian Oil before moving to the US on a Fulbright Fellowship in 1981. There, he managed to produce two PhD dissertations at once, initially at MIT's Sloan School of Management, then also at Harvard Business School, where he met Bartlett. He was appointed to Insead business school in France in 1985, becoming a full professor in record time and producing a stream of influential books and articles on multinational enterprise.
Joining the London Business School in 1994, he quickly became the centre of a group of researchers who shared his passionately humanist views. He renewed his ties with India, developing a large following through research, consulting, newspaper columns and a television series. He was a prime mover behind the setting up of the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, where he was founding dean and taught extensively. He also began an influential collection of Indian art.
Wide-ranging, passionate and outgoing, Ghoshal was also a genuinely modest man with a talent for friendship.
He is survived by his wife Sushmita, and two sons in London, and his parents and brother in India.
Sumantra Ghoshal , academic, born September 1948 died March 3 2004
The Guardian, 7 March 2004