PS Deodhar, Founder of APLAB Group, is No More
Moneylife Digital Team 29 January 2024
PS Deodhar, the founder and former chairman of the APLAB group of companies and former chairman of the Electronics Commission of the government of India, passed away on Saturday. He was 89. Mr Deodhar left a legacy of pioneering achievements in India's electronics and information technology (IT) sector. He was a visionary engineer, a shrewd businessman and a man of unwavering integrity whose life story is a testament to the power of innovation and ethical leadership. 
 
Mr Deodhar was an advisor to former prime minister (PM) Rajiv Gandhi on electronics. He also was the chairman of the broadcast council in 1992-93 which set in motion the privatisation of the electronic media with metro channels.
 
His journey began with a deep-seated passion for technology. His engineering background ignited a fire in him to develop solutions that would improve the lives of ordinary Indians. In the early-1960s, he established APLAB, a company synonymous with quality and innovation.
 
Mr Deodhar's influence transcended the walls of his company. He served as an adviser to former PM Rajiv Gandhi, playing a crucial role in India's rapid technological advancement during the 1980s. 
 
But Mr Deodhar's true calling lay in building a vibrant electronics ecosystem in India. He spearheaded the development of black and white (B&W) and colour televisions, personal computers (PCs), and other essential electronics, making them accessible to the masses. His material, technology and brand (MTB) scheme empowered hundreds of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) by providing free technology, product design, and even components, nurturing a culture of innovation at the grassroots.
 
Mr Deodhar was a regular writer for Moneylife and wrote several interesting articles while sharing his views on many subjects. 
 
In 2013, Mr Deodhar wrote a four-part series for Moneylife on the difficulties of an entrepreneur doing business in India and how India loses by forcing small businesses to pay bribes and lose out to multinationals.
 
Sharing his experience about working with the government in New Delhi, Mr Deodhar wrote, "I found almost no one amongst the politicians or top bureaucrats who were interested in nation building, something that demanded sustained well-planned efforts. We had remarkably brilliant bureaucrats and very sharp, cunning and street-smart politicians. I found that the former were more concerned with their careers than the nation. Those among them heading the ministries barely had a year before they would retire, so the only future thoughts they had were about themselves and not the country. Their immediate concern was about their post-retirement plans. The politicians were a cunning lot, but most had no vision for India. Their vision was limited to themselves and their region, their electorate and their caste." (Read: Problems of Being an Indian Entrepreneur-III: Corruption rears its ugly head)
 
Mr Deodhar's guiding principle was unwavering integrity. He believed in building technology with high ethical standards, refusing to compromise on quality or succumbing to corrupt practices. His business philosophy stood in stark contrast to the prevalent culture of bribery and shortcuts, earning him respect and admiration across the industry.
 
"Chasing money never excited me," he once said. "My focus was on product development, continued learning of technological advances, and delivering products that consumers wanted." 
 
This dedication to innovation led to Mr Deodhar's pioneering work in smartcard-based payphones and automated teller machines (ATMs). He understood the potential of these technologies to revolutionise India's infrastructure, but his path was riddled with bureaucratic hurdles and unfair competition.
 
Mr Deodhar's frustration with the lack of support for innovative SMEs was palpable. He witnessed first-hand how his pioneering efforts in ATMs and smartcard payphones were stifled by arbitrary tender requirements, often benefiting foreign competitors who lacked his commitment to quality and integrity. Yet, he never lost sight of the bigger picture.
 
APLAB created and sold over 100 ATM machines, which had two unique design features not available with ATMs available at that time. "At first, our machines were interactive with the user and provided his/her native language to be displayed onscreen. The second feature was taking a picture of the person withdrawing cash from the machine. Both were not provided by our competitors, NCR and Diebold."
 
He says, "When the nationalised banks started floating tenders for ATMs, all of them put a condition that the supplier must have at least 2,000 ATMs installed and functional. In one clean sweep, APLAB was debarred by Indian banks from the ATM business. I met two cabinet ministers at the Centre who I thought would understand the merit of supporting an Indian company's pioneering effort. All I got was a cup of tea." 
 
"I must conclude by saying that I consider the loss was India's," he once said. "I feel very proud that we in India can pull off what others in the world are accomplishing, and that too with a small Rs150 crore set up."
 
Mr Deodhar's legacy extends far beyond the walls of APLABS. He has left behind a blueprint for ethical entrepreneurship and a deep-seated belief in India's potential to be a global leader in technological innovation. He inspired generations of engineers and entrepreneurs to dream big, chase technology with passion, and never compromise on their values.
 
His story is a beacon of hope, a testament to the power of integrity and perseverance in the face of adversity. 
 
PS Deodhar may be gone, but his legacy will continue to illuminate the path for technology innovators in India and beyond.
 
You may want to read Mr Deodhar's article here... 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Comments
abhay1955
3 months ago
Really a visionary person caring for our country. I came to know about his sad demise and about his great work also from an article by Marathi Vidnyan Parishad, published by Loksatta daily.
iaminprabhu
3 months ago
Respect for Mr. Deodhar & his Rich beliefs in life. Om Shanti ????????
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