Venkataraman Krishnamurthy, who died in Chennai aged 97, was among the last of the great public-sector managers who can credibly claim to have built India’s industrial backbone. In the 1970s and 1980s, he successively headed Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL), the Maruti project, and Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL). He also served in the Planning Commission, at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and the National Manufacturing Council. At BHEL, he oversaw the large-scale merger of multiple public sector entities flawlessly, something that public sector undertakings (PSUs) have struggled with subsequently. Krishnamurthy would not necessarily have described himself as a technocrat; he thought of himself as an engineer, a manager, but most of all as a “professional”. His passing thus is a moment for national reflection on how and why India’s public sector — although it remains a vital component of the national economy — is no longer the preserve of excellence, innovation, and, indeed, professionalism.
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