Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Narayana Murthy : Exemplar Leadership

Today I happened to be arguing with my cousin on who qualifies for being called a 'leader'.We use that word, almost exclusively, to denote politicians. These are bad days for capitalism and for businessmen in general, their 'stock', pun unintended, is at its lowest ebb, somewhat justifiably but mostly as just scapegoats for toady politicians who strut about as 'leaders'.

I found an interview of Murthy by Vir Singhvi (formerly editor of 'The Week') and it was quite an impressive slice of Murthy's wonderful personality. Like any Indian in the 70's he too was leftist but after arrested for speaking to a fellow passenger in Yugoslavia he experienced 'communism' first hand then turned a new leaf thankfully.

Its the second part of the interview that interested me more. The lore of starting Infosys with Rs 10,000, building it to a billion dollar company on sterling ethical standards is all too well known. Murthy, unlike the Ambani's, became an icon not only because he made wealth but because he did it with the highest possible unimpeachable ethical standards. Not a single case of tax evasion or bribery or evidence of twisting the rules. All this in India. Ambani's were the exact opposite. Of course the Tata's and Birla's too fall in the same class as Murthy but since they, unlike Murthy, were wealthy for generations they did not have the 'halo' of rising up from being 'lower middle class'.

What I found admirable in the man was that none of his children are in any top posts in Infosys. In fact they are specifically prohibited from parachuting in.Murthy also stated that the wives of the founders, though they were extremely qualified, were explicitly prohibited from any role in the company to avoid charges of nepotism. Murthy, practically brags that every building of Infosys was built without violating ANY municipal laws. Executives of Infosys fly economy class. He plans to curtail the inheritance f his children, just like Bill Gates. His philanthropic attitude is NOT a pre-requisite to appreciate him but it sure is good.

What sets apart Murthy from the Tata or Premji is how he could state bluntly that what India needs is "creation of wealth NOT distribution of poverty" and build his company around that philosophy. For the first time India witnessed a businessman making no apologies for capitalism, no apologies for making profits. Nehru is supposed to have told Tata that profit is a dirty word and India went to the dump for 40 years. The term "info-millionaires" came into being thanks to him. No politician in the past 20 years could claim to have uplifted families like Murthy did. Of course Murthy was not doing charity to his emplyees. Its a symbiotic relationship. He was not a parasite like a politician. When it came to charity he does it out of his pocket unlike politicians.

Murthy and Infosys became icons for creating a company that is rightfully considered "world class" and, to belabor the point, did it honestly. It was with Infosys that India as a "brand" arrived on the world scene. Nobody sought that mantle before him. It was a vision that put India on the global map.

The final part of the interview had interesting info on how he spends Rs 3000 per week on books and his idea of how Western Classical music as fostering team spirit.

Amusingly there is another snippet on youtube where Cho rubbishes the idea of Murthy becoming president owing to his non-participation in public life. I sincerely hope that Murthy is NOT given the Bharat Ratna or the Presidency both would be an insult to Murthy.

The interview links: (Want to be example) (Western Classical etc)

Another famous address of Murthy is his "Learn from the West)

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