Nagavara Ramarao Narayana Murthy (born August 20, 1946) is an Indian IT industrialist and co-founder of Infosys, a multinational corporation providing business consulting, technology, engineering and outsourcing services. Murthy studied electrical engineering at the National Institute of Engineering, University of Mysore and MTech at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur.
Before starting Infosys, Murthy worked with Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad as Chief Systems Programmer and Patni Computer Systems in Pune (Maharashtra). He started Infosys in 1981 and served as its CEO from 1981 to 2002 and as Chairman from 2002 to 2011.
In 2011, he stepped down from the board and became Chairman Emeritus. On June 1, 2013, Murthy was appointed as Additional Director and Executive Chairman of the board for a period of five years.
Murthy has been listed among the 12 greatest entrepreneurs of our time by the Fortune magazine. He has been described as the “father of the Indian IT sector” by the Time magazine, due to his contribution to outsourcing in India. Murthy has also been honoured with the Padma Vibhushan and Padma Shri awards.
In 1981, Murthy and six other computer engineers founded Infosys with 10,000 Indian rupees between them and built the company into a global leader in computer technology services and business consulting.
Murthy has remained a firm believer in the opportunities created by chance events. His advice to the students at Stern was that “the future will be shaped by several turning points with great learning opportunities”.
The team had worked with the New York-based Data-Basics Corporation company at Patni Computer Systems and Data-Basics now wanted its own India- based software team but was persuaded that Infosys could take on the task.
Infosys was a pioneer of the Global Delivery Model, which argues that work should be done wherever on the planet the best talent is available, at the most competitive price, with the lowest acceptable risk.
Murthy set his sights on the global market but establishing the company was difficult. There was a waiting list for computers — the company used time-share for its first few years. Its first computer was not installed until 1984; it took a year just to get a phone line installed because businesses were not given priority.
Finance was only secured when Murthy happened to meet an official from the state Industrial Investment and Development Corporation accidently. He took the advantage of the meeting to explain his proposal. Only thereafter, the proposal approved.
In 1987, Infosys opened its first overseas office in Boston. In 1990, the partners received an offer of US $ 1 million to sell the company. His colleagues were tempted but Murthy reminded them of the challenges and difficulties that they had faced so far.
“If they were all bent upon selling the company,” said Murthy, “I would buy out all my colleagues, though I did not have a cent in my pocket.”
Murthy’s demonstration of faith changed his partners’ minds. In 1993, Infosys was launched on the Indian stock exchange.
There was another pivotal moment when a major client set up a competitive pitch and drove fees down to a level where Murthy did not believe they could continue to deliver adequate levels of staff training and client service.
“I communicated clearly to the customer that we could not accept their terms, since it could well lead us to letting them down later. But I promised a smooth, professional transition to a vendor of the customer’s choice.”
The client represented 25 percent of the company’s revenue. Murthy said standing firm on its business model was “a turning point”. He put in place a de-risk strategy to ensure that Infosys would never again be overdependent on one client, country or technology.
In 1999, a listing on the U.S. electronic NASDAQ exchange delivered capital to drive rapid growth – Infosys has 67 offices around the world, including 18 in the U.S.
The company has also earned a reputation for the integrity and transparency in business dealings that Murthy championed throughout his 21 years as CEO.
What lessons can we learned from Narayana Murthy?
Murthy often says, “When in doubt disclose.” Murthy always stands by being open and transparent. According to him, “The leader has to create an environment, where each person feels secure enough to be able to disclose his or her mistakes and resolves to improve”, as stated in Renu Saran’s book, ‘Narayana Murthy and the Legend of Infosys’.
After the IPO, Infosys decided to share a portion of its equity with employees. This helped them retain talent and gave employees a sense of ownership. Murthy is proud of having given away stocks worth over Rs.50,000 crore to employees.
Murthy believes that global benchmarking helps serve the customer better. It also helps in competing with the best. Once you realise what can be measured and controlled, you know what can be improved.
He describes a superior organisation as one where employees at all levels are driven by values and no employee is high or important enough to put up with non-compliance. Compliance to a value system creates an environment for people to have high aspirations, high self-esteem, a strong belief in fundamental values, confidence in future and enthusiasm necessary to take up difficult tasks.
To this day, Murthy lives a simple life and has a middle-class house. He has always been accessible to people around him. Murthy is known to be frugal with money. However, he does not compromise on buying books or brushing up on literature.
Murthy encourages learning and encourages the youth to learn by constantly investing in training, development and building facilities. He has always been keen on nurturing the younger generation and welcomes young talent.
Every now and then, the world builds a man of such extraordinary wit and grit that it is impossible to not sit up and take notice. Murthy is one such humble soul. An entrepreneur, a leader, a philanthropist, a family man—he is the true essence and living example of keeping your head in the sky with your feet firmly set on the ground
Do it first and do it right
Infosys did many things first and most things right. For example, it was the first Indian company to list on NASDAQ. It was the first Indian company to make it to the NASDAQ 100 list and it was the first Indian company to attain the highest level of quality certification.
Never lose common touch
The big man of Indian IT kept his personal life simple. He lives in a simple, middle class house and flies Economy till date. Murthy has always been accessible to people around him.
Think big. Don’t hesitate to start small
In 1981, a determined Murthy started Infosys with Rs.10,000 he borrowed from his wife. In few years, Infosys went on to become one of the largest wealth creators in the country.
Infosys almost wound up in 1990. Murthy did not want to sell the company. He asked co-founders if they wanted out and offered to buy their shares. All of them stuck together.
Infosys won a contract from Reebok in the early ‘90s. Seeing the founder’s involvement, the software was nicknamed ‘Dinesh, Murthy and Prahlad’. Infosys veterans still recall those days.
(Lionel Wijesiri is a retired company director with over 30 years’ experience in senior business management. Presently he is a freelance journalist and could be contacted on email@example.com)