Narayana Murthy

“It is less important, I believe, where you start. It is more important how and what you learn. If the quality of the learning is high and the development gradient is steep, you can find yourself in a previously unattainable place.” -N.R. Narayana Murthy

Narayana Murthy is an Indian billionaire businessperson and philanthropist. He is the co-founder of Infosys, a highly innovative software service global behemoth, and was its Chairperson, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for 21 years, President and Chief Mentor of the enterprise, before retiring and becoming Chairperson Emeritus. He is widely known as the "Father of the Indian IT Sector" due to his contribution to the sector and revolutionizing new ideas. Narayana's spouse is Sudha Murthy, who is a social worker, author and engineering teacher, who gave Infosys its initial capital of ₹10,000.

At the age of 75, his net worth is about $4.4 billion, as of November 2021, having been ranked 13th among CNBC’s 25 Global Business Leaders in 2014, among the “12 Greatest Entrepreneurs of Our Time” by Fortune in 2012 and among the “10 Most-Admired Global Business Leaders” in 2005 by The Economist. He is responsible for conceptualizing, articulating and implementing the GDM (Global Delivery Model), which has, eventually, become the backbone of the Indian software industry. 

But how did the journey of this legendary software entrepreneur start?

Born in 1946, he graduated from the National Institute of Engineering, with a Bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1967 and did a Master's from the Indian Institute of Technology in 1969. During the 1970s, he worked in Paris to design an OS for handling air cargo at Charles de Gaulle Airport. He described this time as being a “confused leftist”, but a bitter experience in Serbia, a communist country, where he was mistreated on a train and left to starve for many days, made him “a determined compassionate capitalist” who believed that the large-scale creation of jobs was the only practical method of eradicating poverty. After returning to India, he worked at a computer systems enterprise in Pune, but the harsh experience in Serbia made him take the plunge into entrepreneurship. Eventually, he decided to launch his own company in 1981: Infosys.

“A fixed mindset creates a tendency to avoid challenges, to ignore useful negative feedback and leads such people to plateau early and not achieve their full potential.”

Co-founding it with six other businesspersons, Infosys grew but very slowly. One of the hardest periods for Infosys was a moment in 1990, when, after much frustration and constant struggle with dealing with the government's policies, Murthy thought of throwing in the towel. There was an opportunity for Infosys to be bought out for $1 million but a renewed spirit made Murthy believe that his company was destined for much bigger and better things, so much so, he offered to buy out the co-founders to continue operations. Stunned by his determination, the co-founders decided not to go through with the buyout. Murthy's drive paid off because, in the early 1990s, the government of India decided to transition its economy to incorporate liberalization and deregulation. This accelerated the growth of Infosys dramatically and Murthy aggressively expanded the client base and services of his company, even negotiating with organizations that were overseas to provide them with software development, consulting, product engineering services and systems integration. He was so successful in growing Infosys that by 1999, it had joined NASDAQ and was the first Indian company to be listed on an American stock exchange. 

A fixed mindset is generally characterized by one that is unwilling to challenge its own beliefs, values and presuppositions about the way things are right now. A mind stuck with the beliefs acquired and held stubbornly since childhood is easily swayed by ideologies and falsities put forth by others and can very easily lead to the exploitation of the individual. A fixed mindset inhibits the ability to think critically for oneself. It’s worth noting that throughout history, the greatest contributions have been by people who were willing to challenge the status quo wildly. 

In 2004, Infosys had achieved about $1 billion in total annual revenue, about 33% higher than the previous year. The best part about this is that it happened amid a global downturn in the IT industry. At the same time, a political debate was brewing in the US over job losses induced by shipping jobs overseas. This was worrisome to the company because about two-thirds of its revenue came from US corporations, however, Murthy did not seem to be worried because he believed that outsourcing was here to stay.

In today’s time, as the roles of labourer and assembly worker have become jobs of the past and more and more jobs risk extinction due to the rise of AI (Artificial Intelligence), people must be willing to learn at all times. Learning becomes an inevitable part of one’s life in such times and we must understand that workers who have the ability to learn faster and deeper than others are increasingly preferable. We must, therefore, work to enhance our learning methods and increase the depth of the content we study. Acquiring skills quicker than others is another advantage in one’s ability to compete in the market.

Murthy retired in 2006, leaving a legacy of $3 billion a year in revenue and 70,000 employees. However, Infosys' performance suffered in his absence and so, he returned as Executive Chairperson and Additional Director in 2013 but stepped down in 2014. 

People believe Narayana Murthy's biggest contribution to India is building Infosys. However, it's actually his achievement of validating the notion that anyone can build a multibillion-dollar company, as long as you’re hardworking, have a vision, determination and passion. 

It’s important today that we work actively not just to maximize our profits but to create systems where the maximum number of people can benefit from collective efforts. Almost every visionary aimed at this goal but their methods to achieve this differ. It’s imperative we seek any means of achieving such a vision. If it’s through enterprise, then we ought to build enterprises that can include the less privileged. If it’s through research, then we work on what could, perhaps, reduce the costs borne by the poor for their basic minimum requirements. If it’s through policy formulation, then we work on how society’s resources could be allocated to mechanisms that help uplift those who struggle below the strata of the middle class. In the end, after all, it’s in everybody’s interests if we benefit the world by uplifting and encouraging those who cannot rise above themselves.

Narayana has created a model corporate structure that shines a spotlight on good governance and transparency. In alignment with his idea of compassionate capitalism, Infosys has an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) which has created millionaires among its employees. Murthy believes, “When, one day, you have made your mark on the world, remember that, in the ultimate analysis, we are all mere temporary custodians of the wealth we generate, whether it be financial, intellectual or emotional. The best use of all your wealth is to share it with those less fortunate”. And so, in 1996, Infosys Foundation was formed to improve healthcare, social rehabilitation, education, culture and art for the underprivileged.

That being said, Narayana Murthy and Infosys have faced criticism for a myriad of reasons. A recent example of this was at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020, when Murthy opined that to compensate for the economic slowdown, Indians should work at least 60 hours a week for the next 2-3 years, a suggestion not received well by many.

Nonetheless, Narayana Murthy is a legendary person and his philosophies are worth every dime knowing. His work in developing the Indian IT sector and making it a global giant is highly revered throughout the world. Praised by even William Gates, Narayana Murthy overcame many obstacles and demonstrated that it is possible to create a world-class values-driven company in India. Through his vision and leadership, Murthy sparked a wave of innovation and entrepreneurship that changed the way we view ourselves and how the world views India.

“Move from apathy to action. Aim at becoming better than me. Luck will favour those who are prepared.”

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