By Clifford Sawhney
N.R.Narayana Murthy, Chairman, Infosys Technologies Ltd
An Indian IT chief who’s really made it big without dropping his ethical precepts by the wayside is Nagawara Ramarao Narayana Murthy, Chairman of Infosys. Born in 1946, Murthy’s father was a schoolteacher in Kolar district, Karnataka, India. A bright student, Murthy went on to acquire a degree in Electrical Engineering from Mysore University and later studied Computer Science at the IIT, Kanpur, India.
The Infosys legend began in 1981 when Narayana Murthy dreamt of forming his own company, along with six friends. There was a minor hitch, though-he didn’t have any seed money. Luckily, like many Indian women who save secretly without their husband’s knowledge, his wife Sudha-then an engineer with Tatas-had saved Rs 10,000. This was Murthy’s first big break.
The decade until 1991 was a tough period when the couple lived in a one-room house. The second break came in 1991 when Indian doors to liberalization were flung open… Murthy grabbed the opportunity with both hands and has never looked back ever since. Today, Infosys is the first Indian company to be listed on the US NASDAQ.
While working in France in the 1970s, Murthy was strongly influenced by socialism. The bubble was pricked, however, when he was arrested in Bulgaria on espionage charges. Today, he says: ‘I’m a capitalist in mind, a socialist at heart.’ It was this belief in the distribution of wealth that made Infosys one of the first Indian companies to offer employees stock-option plans. Infosys now has 400 employees who are dollar millionaires.
In a poll conducted by Asiaweek, the quiet, soft-spoken man was selected one of the 50 most powerful people in Asia for 2000. And 50 per cent of the respondents in an online poll conducted by The Economic Times voted him the best CEO of India.
Heading a company with the largest market capitalization hasn’t changed Murthy’s life-style much. The man still doesn’t know how to drive a car! On Saturdays-his driver’s weekly off-the Infosys chief is driven to the bus stop by his wife, from where he boards a company bus to work! Incidentally, Sudha Murthy is now chief of the Infosys Foundation, which channels Rs 50 million into charity every year.
Simplicity, humility and maintaining a low profile are the hallmarks of this super-rich Bangalorean. And the man is principled to a fault. Murthy’s unprecedented wealth has catapulted him into the public glare. After the kidnapping of Dr Rajkumar by forest brigand Veerappan, the Home Ministry has sounded out the local government about providing Z-category security to Murthy and Premji. Both characteristically turned down the offer.
In a letter to the police top brass last month, Murthy said he was a simple man who had no intentions of annoying his neighbors and disturbing traffic with an intrusive entourage of security vehicles and personnel.
That’s Narayana Murthy for you.
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