Last evening, a former colleague and dear friend Prakash Natarajan shared the sad news that Dr V Krishnamurthy passed away in Chennai. He was 97 years ‘young’.
I last met VK when he was 74 years old. His memory was better than mine now. I am almost 50 years younger than him.
VK was India’s best-known technocrat who achieved in one life what many (including this writer) dream of. Among his numerous achievements, here are a few:
He was former Chairman of some of India’s largest Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) including Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL), Maruti Udyog Limited & Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL).
India’s former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi picked him as the founder and Chairman of a people’s car company to accomplish her late son’s dream project. Dr Krishnamurthy reluctantly agreed and created India’s most successful passenger car – Maruti.
This was after he turned around BHEL from the brink of collapse, ending Mrs. Gandhi’s opinion that Indian managers were incapable of handling large-scale organizations.
After achieving success with Maruti Udyog Limited, the next Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi called him to take charge of the loss-making Steel Authority of India (SAIL) hoping he could turn it around. Dr Krishnamurthy took up the challenge and made SAIL profitable.
That’s enough you may think. After all, how many do you know who have so many successes under their belt?
But it would be unfair if I did not mention a few more.
A Padma Vibhushan awardee, Dr. Krishnamurthy was a career civil servant who also served both as a Member of National Advisory Council, and the Planning Commission. He was also Secretary, Heavy Industries, Government of India.
A life-long believer in the power of education, VK was Chairman of the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi & Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar.
That’s not all.
In 2009, VK was honoured with Japan’s highest civilian award, The Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun.
When I mentioned this to a friend yesterday, she said, “Wow, are you serious?”
These are only some highlights of his long and distinguished career. But this piece is not about his positions or achievements. A simple google search can reveal that.
Here’s what I know about the man behind the manager.
I had the pleasure of meeting him twice. Just the two occasions were enough to leave a mark for the rest of my life.
I interviewed him for a corporate film in 1995 and accompanied him to a sound studio to dub his voice in Tamil. He believed his factory workers needed to hear their beloved Chairman in their language.
I spent 2-3 hours over two days with him. He offered to drop me off in his car after we packed up on day two. I politely declined. I didn’t want to consume time in his extremely busy schedule.
He said he was heading in that direction and wouldn’t mind a slight deviation from his route. I am not sure if he really was, or he said this just to indulge me for a few minutes more. He seemed interested to know more about me. He asked me a few questions about my background, on our way back from the sound studio.
That evening, I went back home feeling delighted that a living legend had shown interest in a small-town lad who has just started his career in India’s capital city.
I ran into him four years later when he had come for a TV interview on a television news network I worked for. I wished him and let him know I was excited to meet him after four years but did not expect him to remember me. He smiled, wished me by my name, and even mentioned my birthplace.
I was astonished.
At the age of 74, he had remembered a 10-minute conversation four years ago with a 21-year-old-novice-in-his-first job. Not just on account of his elephantine memory, but because he cared to remember.
Great leaders have the amazing ability to remember. Because they care to listen.
I thanked him for remembering me. But it was not about me. He would have remembered if it was someone else in my place. When I interviewed him, I gathered he took a personal interest in the employees of his company. He deeply cared.
I have been fortunate to meet many great women and men who have left an impression on my mind. But none greater than Dr V Krishnamurthy. I will cherish my limited association with him forever.
By Rajen Garabadu