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India needs Pitrodas, Sreedharans
They have made a difference to India not with their slogans but with their modern outlook and technological leadership. The country needs many more such leaders, who hold the key to change in all dimensions.
IN A SOCIETY riddled with the age-old problem of caste and feudal system, technology is a great leveler. India has produced some very fine leaders in this bailiwick who have battled the systemic bottlenecks and pain-points to benefit the Indian society. However, the quest for technological leaderships at various levels is still there to raise the standards of a large mass of left-behind people. India has seen some great tech visionaries, who have made extraordinary contributions in the country’s modernization. Here is a brief sketch of some of India’s truly modern leaders on the tech front.
E Sreedharan (Metro project): He is not on the television and nowhere on the pages of newspapers. But Elatuvalapil Sreedharan has definitely created an indelible mark on the public memory, especially of the Delhiites. The modest man that he is, Sreedharan would never take the credit of shrinking the notorious distances of Delhi city. But people know in their hearts what a marvelous gift he has given to the daily travelers in Delhi. Sreedharan was a laughing stock when he started planning Metro in Delhi. In 2006, he was named one of India’s most powerful individual in a survey by a magazine, after setting a record of sorts by giving the Indian capital world-class Metro in a record time. He is next to none when it comes to setting new efficiency standards. Not only did he complete the Metro project ahead of the stipulated time period, but also within the allocated funds which is a rare feat considering the enormous examples of incomplete assignments in this city for escalating costs. And, all this without even one-tenth of the mess, which can be sighted for months together when a flyover comes up in Delhi/NCR or even a road is reconstructed. Sreedharan has remarkable financial management skills too. For all his effort, 450,000 people ride Metro every day. If it has maintained high levels of comfort and safety of passengers, it’s owing mainly to this 70-plus years agile leader. However, his dignity lies in his attitude by which he almost nullifies his role in the successful project and attributes it to his team. “I have been lucky enough to pick up the right people for the right job,” is all that this great leader has to say in order to downplay his contribution in the feat. But for all he knows yeh public hai yeh sab janti hai.
N R Narayana Murthy: Chief mentor of Infosys Technologies Ltd, he founded the company in 1981 with $250 and a few friends in a two-bedroom Pune apartment. Without any seed money and borrowing Rs 10,000 from his engineer wife Sudha, who worked as an engineer with Tatas back then, Murthy began Infosys. Until 1991 when the liberalization doors flung open, Infosys struggled somewhat. And then there was no looking back. Today, Infosys is the only company listed on Nasdaq. Simplicity and humility have been the trademark of this Banglorean, who for all his wealth and fame does not know how to drive a car! It is a famous fact about him that he still lives a very simple life, travels to and fro in office bus and lives a very principled life. It only goes to show the sterner material he is made of. As such, this wealth of principles percolates down to the office as a culture. He said in one of the interviews “entrepreneurship is a marathon. I believe that the key to a successful corporation is longevity — my heroes are companies like GE, IBM and Levers.” His uncanny knack of thinking years ahead has turned Infosys a global competitor. He is still in the tracks and has way to go — forward!
Sam Pitroda: The father of the STD PCO revolution in India, Satyanarayan Gangaram Pitroda transformed the meaning of communication in this country in the last two decades, which was largely limited to inland letters and other postal services till then. But the bright yellow STD PCO boxes, which gradually became as common a sight as the neighbourhood fruit vendor, have seen enough resistance and derision in its infancy. But little did we realize then that this humble tool, propagated by this crusader of information exchange, is bringing a whole new culture in its hold: the culture of staying connected. He shifted paradigms and it’s owing to his efforts that we now think of telecommunication next to food, clean water and shelter. Pitroda, an inventor, a technocrat, a management guru and the head of National Knowledge Commission, is a leader in the real sense of the word.

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