Simplicity and humility are just one side to his character. What really drives him is this "vision of the future" to put India on the global map. He's obsessed by it. From the time he and six others bunched together in a 2-bedroom Pune apartment and set-up Infosys in 1981, with an investment of just Rs. 10,000 borrowed from their spouses, the grind has never ceased. Since then (and even before), he's moved literally at the speed of thought. N.R. Narayana Murthy knows no other way.
Infosys Technologies is the jewel of India's IT crown and the glimmer comes not just from the promoters of the company, but every Infoscion (employees of Infosys, as they are called). Because, Narayana Murthy believes that they are the heart and soul of the company's existence. Therefore, share they must.
The atmosphere in the sprawling Infosys facility in Bangalore resembles that of a University Campus. Intelligent young men and women ambling around or chitchatting at the Coffee Parlour or snack counter as if on class recess. On the other hand, it could be a project group discussion in progress. You never know. Such is the freedom in this workplace. But what about work? Says Narayana Murthy "Right from Day One, the seven of us who founded this company felt that if you surround yourself with people smarter than you and if you put in your systems to measure productivity and quality, then they can be as free as they want. As long as they discharge their obligations to the company." That according to Narayana Murthy, is the fundamental principle of a civilized society. Where they can claim their rights after fulfilling their responsibilities. For the company that pioneered the Employee Stock Options concept (ESOPs) the people aren't complaining. It's made many into millionaires and some even billionaires.
Narayana Murthy epitomizes that attitude is every thing. Commenting on the disgruntling goings on in industry circles on the inflow of Chinese products into Indian markets, he contends that, "If the Chinese can produce a better quality product, then there is lesson for us. But first, industry must address that issue. Because unless we address that issue, we won't be competitive." He firmly believes that unless we take such an attitude, we'll only be blaming others. Instead, we need to find out what's wrong with us. "It's a question of mindset," continues Narayana Murthy, "and that's what's needed today, because otherwise we'll keep rationalizing our failures".
Out of his pet theory of "the globalization of India" was born this resolve to make his company a global player. And boy, has he succeeded. From humble beginnings to creating history by becoming the first Indian-registered company to list on Nasdaq, isn't funny. So, what is that makes Narayana Murthy really capture people's minds; makes one sit up and listen, earn the respect of his employees, his colleagues, industrialists and the government?
It's this uncanny knack of thinking years ahead. Like for instance, he firmly believes that India will get rich only if we created more jobs. "Firstly, we must realize that the task of creating jobs is best left to the private sector. The task of creating wealth is best left to the private sector. India will get better and rich if we showed more export-orientation," he says. Because, he believes that the government has other priorities, to provide basic education, health, shelter, food, etc. And so, the government should create such an environment where more entrepreneurs will surface and create more jobs and wealth. And with regard to export-orientation? Narayana Murthy makes no bones in stating "if you compete on a global level, you have a much better chance of improving and giving customers better value".
Now isn't that what Infosys did? And haven't they achieved what the Big Boss just stated?
One might say, "Okay, this is fine as for as the Software industry goes. But what about other industries?" Narayana Murthy's answer is quick, "I think in other industries, if we are willing to benchmark ourselves against the best in the world, as long as we adhere to the finer principles of corporate governance, as long as the founders take a long term view of their corporations, as long as competition is alive and kicking, as long as we are willing to learn, I think we'll definitely improve." Let's accept it. What he advocates as the things we need to do to improve is precisely what we aren't doing? So how can we improve? The point is that if Infosys can achieve a top-ranking global player status - and they didn't exactly pluck this achievement out of thin air - then so can others. But there is the big "If".
Nonetheless, he's confident that the change is taking place, albeit, a bit slow. "The name of the game is to quickly employ our young men and women and create a sense of optimism in them," stressing on the fact that it's important to inculcate a sense of optimism in today's young men and women passing out of college.
An ardent admirer of late Pandit Nehru, who once said that the bridges, the dams, the factories were the temples of modern India; Narayana Murthy describes Infosys City as "the Knowledge Millennium version". At Infosys, the mantra is to obsolete innovation rather than have competitors do it because then, one is in control of that process and that gives further incentives for innovating more and more.
Narayana Murthy's upbringing has been from the best of value systems. Simplicity and humility percolate within him. By his own admission there are perhaps hundreds and millions of Indians who are smarter than him. He considers himself very lucky. He believes that if one realizes that whatever one has received is an act of God, then it'll help in getting better and better. He quotes someone having said, "If God is shy to announce His presence, He comes in the form of Luck." Not surprising that he leads not too ostentatious a life. "If you lead a simple life, then you are not a victim of wealth. You are on top of it. Unfortunately in India, because foreigners ruled us for well over thousand years, the mindset we have developed is that we will lead a grand personal life, but we don't care for the community," he laments. That he cares for the community is evident from the fact that at the corporate level "The Infosys Foundation" has made various donations towards charitable causes and community development projects.
And as we leave his room, totally mesmerized after having met such a wonderful human being, we see him peering into his laptop, obviously catching up with the latest on the Presidential Elections as he remarks "At last, the Americans have found themselves a President".
What a fabulous person. Not George Bush. Narayana Murthy.