As a UX Researcher, I don't feel you love us when choosing to leave that title, even understanding what you mean.
I believe you're mixing up a discipline (User Research) with some methodologies for doing it, but the method is not the discipline.
Yes, it took you guys too long to figure out that Personas are just a fancy methodology that takes far too much time for the results. In my experience, it was always a waste of time.
A good UX process, that should always be based in some sort of research (=learning about your real users), takes into consideration the context and requirements before deciding what to do. I don't like Personas, but even though I did, I wouldn't use it in ALL my projects.
User Research has to do with learning about the context of the problem and choosing the right methodology and tools to build a solution. There's not a single way for doing it correctly.
In your story, it seems that somebody confounded the whole discipline of User Research with only one of the possible approaches you can have for getting to know your users.
Your problem is the strategy, not User research.