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The Rediff Interview/S Gopalakrishnan, President & COO, Infosys
'Infosys comes first and all of us accept this'
December 05, 2006
S 'Kris' Gopalakrishnan is president, chief operating officer and member of the board of IT major Infosys Technologies Ltd. He is one of the founders of Infosys and plays a key role in defining the company strategy and in using technology and innovation continuously to maintain its leadership of the industry.
He began his career with Patni Computer Systems (PCS), Mumbai as a software engineer in 1979. In 1981, Kris, along with N R Narayana Murthy and five others, founded Infosys Technologies Limited.
The initial years of his responsibility at Infosys included management of design, development, implementation and support of information systems for clients in the consumer products industry in the US. During 1987-1994 he headed the technical operations of KSA/Infosys (a joint venture between Infosys and KSA at Atlanta, USA) as Vice President (Technical).
In 1994, Kris returned to India and was appointed Deputy Managing Director of the company. In April 2002 he was appointed as Chief operating officer and since August 2006 is also the President and Joint Managing Director of the Company.
He holds M. Sc. (Physics) and M. Tech. (Computer Science) degrees from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras.
In an e-mail interview with Managing Editor (News & Business) Shishir Bhate, S 'Kris' Gopalakrishnan, holds forth on the Pan-IIT Global Conference, what are the challenges that India will face in the IT sector, what has kept Infosys core team from breaking apart and also advises young entrepreneurs on how to succeed. Excerpts:
IIT-ians are the pride of India. What do you think is the biggest contribution of IIT-ians to India?
IIT-ians have contributed to all walks of life in India -- business, academics, government and even politics. IIT-ians have risen to leadership positions in these areas and created jobs, educated many others, formulated government policies and become ministers in state and central governments.
What is it about IITs that sets its graduates apart from others?
The selection process ensures that some of the best students join IITs. The quality of teaching and the competition within the IIT system ensures that the graduates gain knowledge and confidence to take up any challenging assignment in the future. The peer networks creates during IIT days help in future business and public service.
What are the challenges that the software sector faces in the new millennium? How can IIT-ians help address these challenges?
The software sector in India is still very young and yet to make a broad impact across multiple service lines -- from consulting to system integration to large outsourcing projects. IIT-ians need to stay the course and look at long term commitment to create an enduring software industry in India. We need to diversify into software products and expand our BPO businesses.
When you made it to IIT; what was that experience like?
For me the experience was completely new. Coming from Trivandrum, then a small town, initially I was overwhelmed. But I soon found out that there were a lots of in similar predicament. IIT definitely gave me the confidence to compete on a larger scale and with the best students.
Did you have any role model who inspired you in your career? Was it Narayana Murthy?
For me, there have been multiple role models. When you are studying there would be your seniors and professors. When you are working, you would look at professionals in the industry. When you are running the company, you would look at the best organisations around the world.
When I look at leadership, Narayana Murthy is definitely the one I look up to. Some of the others from different fields are Bill Gates, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, President Abdul Kalam, and Milton Freeman.
To what extent did your IIT education help you build Infosys, along with Mr Narayana Murthy and Mr Nandan Nilekani?
IIT education allowed me enter into the Computer field. It gave me a solid foundation in CS field. It was a lucky break -- ours was the first batch from M.Sc which was admitted into M.Tech at IIT Madras. This allowed me to provide technical direction to Infosys in the beginning.
'Inspire, Involve and Transform India.' Can you dwell upon the significance of the theme for this year's Pan-IIT global conference?
We are at the cusp of a huge opportunity for transforming India from a developing nation to a developed nation. Clearly, lot of works need to be done. We need to develop a blue print, provide leadership and direction, and execute this together so that we can make this transformation. Lot is expected from IIT-ians in this regard.
How do IITians plan to give back to their country and to transform it?
In whatever field we are and where ever we are working, we can commit ourselves to excellence, dedication, and service. We can work together to achieve this goal of a Developed India.
Could you tell us 5 things that young IIT-ians, entrepreneurs must do to succeed? What advice would you give today's IIT-ians who are tomorrow's entrepreneurs?
First, we need an idea for a product or service. It must scale up create a viable business. There must be a market for this product or service. It must be an improvement to an existing product or service or a completely new product.
Second, we need to look at creating a business for the long term. Starting a business, employing others and selling to customers create long term commitments. We need to honor these. Returns will come over the long term -- large short term returns are exceptions rather than the norm.
Third, we need to continue to innovate and evolve. Any advantage we have will be short term and in order to maintain the advantage, we need to evolve ahead of competition. This requires further investment and a culture of continuous change.
Fourth, we need to build a team of excellent professionals in order to scale up the business. We need to respect the individual and provide an environment of meritocracy such that excellence is appreciated and rewarded.
Lastly, we need to contribute back to the profession and society. We need to be good corporate citizens, running the business legally and ethically. We need to look at sustainable development in order to protect the environment.
How would you rate India in terms of IT services? Do you think India will emerge as an IT super power? What role can IIT-ians play to develop India as a knowledge economy?
India is at the very early stage of taking advantage of the market opportunity which exists in IT services. Compared to the total market size of $600 billion plus, our total exports constitute only $23 billion (4%). We need to be a significant percentage of the global IT services business in order to be an IT super power.
IIT-ians have established that we have the capability. We have established that we have the leadership and managerial skills to create and run world class business. We need to stay the course and achieve the potential.
Which are the technologies and companies in the rich India that can have a beneficial impact on the rural India?
Rural India is all about agriculture. We need to increase agricultural productivity by the use of appropriate technology and consolidating land holdings. We need to plant the right crops based on market requirements and location strengths.
We need to create food storage and processing capabilities closer to the villages such that we can get full benefit of the produce. We need to provide access to markets -- both physically by improving the road infrastructure and technically by providing connectivity.
As agricultural productivity increases, less number of people will work in agriculture. More opportunities for employment need to be created manufacturing and food processing related industries. Vocational training and education need to given so that these people can find other employment.
In what ways have the earlier Pan IIT events helped? What projects has it worked on?
I believe that the Pan IIT events have brought some of the IIT-ians together for the first time which is the first step. We have started working together as a group and debating how we can make an impact. We have not yet produced significant outcomes collectively. I hope that we can showcase our achievements in the near future.
Many IIT-ians have preferred to go aboard rather than work in India. Do you think this trend is changing now? How can India retain its talented people?
The action is shifting to Asia, especially India and China. In this regard, some of this trend is reversing. We need to improve the research environment in our academic institutions and product more PhDs in India. This will hold back more students and help them to do their research in India.
What are the challenges that India will face in the IT sector? How do you think it can be resolved?
The first challenge the IT industry will face will be manpower shortage. We need to increase the quality of engineering education as well as increase the output of the engineering colleges. We need to start many more engineering colleges.
Finding good teachers is a problem. We can partly offset this by the use of technology.
Will Infosys become a product company in the future? What keeps India from becoming a product giant like it is in services?
Infosys has a world class product in Finacle -- an integrated banking platform. We want to stay focused and continue to derive more revenue from Finacle. As investment in R&D increases, other world class products will emerge from India. Initially these will be 'business solutions' and may be later in 'technology solutions.'
What has kept the core Infosys team from breaking all these years? How do you resolve differences?
There is lot of mutual respect among the founders of Infosys. We have similar value systems. We have a long-term view of the business. We want to create a respected institution. This has kept all together. When there are differences, we look at data and see which option is better for Infosys. Infosys comes first and all of us accept this. Finally, a hierarchy is defined, based on roles and responsibilities, and this is respected when decisions have to made.
What does money mean to you?
Money means that we can a have a comfortable living. It means that we can give back to society. It also means that we can try to make a difference to some people, in some areas and support some NGOs.
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