Book Review “At the Helm”

xBL26_THINK2_DC_REV_1913400e.jpg.pagespeed.ic.u11HX1FTWLAt the Helm is a memoir of a veteran technocrat and his stints as the director of Bharat Heavy Electricals, Maruti Udyog, and Steel Authority of India (SAIL). The man who authored the text and lived this amazing life is the former civil servant V. Krishnamurthy. He writes honestly about the struggles these companies went through in their founding years. Those who ran the companies had to get rid of many standard practices in order to change the image that plagued many government run companies in that time. Krishnamurthy writes honestly and clearly of working tirelessly to improve the work culture, enforcing discipline to increase efficiency and dealing with trade unions in order to bring the costumer into the forefront of focus.

Although the government in India is still very controversial today when you read the memoir and look back in history you realize that there were many more problems between 1960 and 1980. Things really have improved and this memoir is part of that story. Krishnamurthy writes of all the problems with deliveries to customers at BHEL. There was no coordination between company’s and how to delivery units to customers. He says that “the customers would usually source equipment from each of the plants and put it together themselves.” He helped to set up a power projects division of the companies in order to provide and integrated service for customers, which yielded better delivery results. Krishnamurthy received the Padma Vibhushan, the country’s second highest honor for his services in 2007.

The memoir overall is an interesting read in how India was able to work within the global market and slowly start to emerge as they enter the list of productive countries. His tone can be a bit self-congratulatory at times, but it forgivable for all that he has accomplished.

Private Sector Helps the Public

business-of-doing-wellDo businesses have a responsibility to help the social good of the communities in which they operate? The Harvard School of Business is exploring that idea with a new seminar series. Rebecca Henderson, a Harvard professor started asking these types of questions a few years ago, which prompted the series. Henderson said that when she began asking colleagues and business executives, “they say the answer I regulation or that the answer is taxation. The idea that firms can set themselves up for public good is viewed with suspicion-in my view for very good reasons.”

The first workshop in the series took place on January 30 and involved three-dozen faculty and doctoral students from multiple colleges. The seminar series entitled “Business and the Public Sector” runs through May and is seeking to spark conversation and unpack ideas of the role the private sector may play in shaping capitalism. Henderson stated at the conference that businesses have to incentive to deal with public sector problems. She also noted that businesses becoming involved in public projects bay be seen as misuse of shareholders funds or as trying to be subversive when it comes to democratic institutions. It is a difficult thing to maneuver, but there are reasons for businesses to pursue this idea. One reason is the growing rate of global corruption.

Additionally, there are environmental pressures and inequality and poverty to consider. The government should handle these issues, but sometimes action is not taken. The private sector has more resources than the government does and could make more of an impact. In some cases helping the public sector can also be beneficial to the company. For example, IBM reduced their energy consumption and saved $477 million between 1990 and 2012.

Henderson identified two areas that need to be explored. One area is inducement methods for businesses like regulations and taxes. The second is whether it is desirable for businesses and firms to change and regulate themselves when considering helping the public good. Could helping the public be part of a new standard for business practices? Historically in the United States government and business worked together to help the public. This changed around the 1980s when businesses became less localized and tied to communities. This series will continue the discussion and possibly bring about change down the road for businesses and the public.