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Infosys is a global company: Narayana Murthy
January 24, 2006
You could lose N R Narayana Murthy in a crowd twice over. First, because he is slightly built and looks far more of the common man on India's streets than R K Laxman's distinctive creation, and second, because in attire, speech or manner, he does not seek to stand out.
But all that changes once he begins by telling you that until three years ago, he worked 14 hours a day -- 6.20 a.m. to 8.30 p.m. -- including Saturdays, and half a day on Sunday, writes Subir Roy.
The contrast between appearance and aspiration finds a good metaphor in Infosys' campus at Bangalore's Electronics City. It has 42 buildings, has a global bigwig visitor every other day - prime ministers, presidents, heavyweight customers and so on.
This spectacular campus was conceived not after Infosys became big but over a decade ago when the cost of the campus, as then computed, was more than the company's annual income.
The dining room, close to the corporate offices, is like the rest of the campus - modern, precisely efficient, sans embellishments. The food we have is similar - wholesome, moderately tasty and unlikely to make you want to overeat. We are served several vegetables dishes - soppu made of spinach, badhanekayi made of brinjal, alu-capsicum, and panchratna dal - all cooked in south Karnataka style. Murthy eats very little and we finish with coffee.
It adds up with Murthy's admission that he eats not for pleasure but out of necessity. A vegetarian, he earlier ate north Indian food but these days he sticks to his native south Karnataka cuisine that is light, nourishing and, to my Bengali pallet, decidedly bland. He mentions in particular "bisibele bhat" - rice, dal and vegetables all cooked together, precisely what the doctor would advise if you wanted a long life.
The food, the man and the company that he has built are in harmony - south Indian, non-showy, middle-class, and driven by the intellect and will-power to scale stupendous heights.
The one relaxation that Murthy enjoyed in the past was going to see Hindi movies with his wife regularly. "In fact, the other day my wife and I were with Tina Ambani and we told her how we liked several of her movies. But in the past 20 years I don't think I have watched a movie, except an English movie while on a flight."
Then, with great meticulousness, he adds, "Actually, that's not correct. I did go once to see Titanic because my daughter was a great fan of the movie and she bought two tickets. But that day my wife had something else to do." So he and his male secretary Pandu went and saw the movie!
He agrees his work has been all engrossing. "In fact, I am very lucky my wife has never burdened me with any of the domestic responsibilities - bringing up children, going to their school, helping them in their studies, buying stuff, groceries and all that, paying all the bills. She built our first house. She does everything."
Everything about Murthy speaks of a great vision pursued with feet firmly planted on the ground. This comes out best as he spells out one of the foremost business principles that has guided his whole venture - selling.
"Many of my colleagues have often accused me of a bias towards sales in Infosys. I tell them, unless we can sell well we cannot do anything, such as create jobs, pay good salaries and satisfy investors. Right from the beginning we realised that we have to focus on selling better and better in the marketplace."
From that came the business success that has made Infosys one of the most successful global companies with a billion dollars in cash.
Come August, Murthy will hang up his boots, become non-executive chairman, give up his corner office, although he will retain the one that he has in the "heritage" building on the campus, but come there rarely. He is building another office near his Bangalore home in Jayanagar where he will receive visitors, prepare lectures - "I get invited to many places" - and receive visitors - "I will have visitors even there, definitely."
He will also catch up on reading. "I want to read some technical stuff. It is a long time since I read computer science. Since I did my masters during 1967-69, I have done a little bit of reading here and there, but not with the seriousness that I would like to."
Infosys is well-known for many things. Key among them are its founders' willingness to share the wealth they have created, and listing in the US with sufficient floating stock that has given the company a global profile. So, over time, the company's founders own less and less of it, and foreign holdings are going up steadily. I ask him what is there in many Indians' mind - how long will Infosys remain an Indian company?
"Frankly, personally to me it does not matter because we have to create the first truly multinational company from India. We are of Indian origin but we are a global company. People must identify with Infosys for bettering their future in every part of the world. But we can say we are Indians, we can still have our headquarters in India. But it is not necessary to be Indian in every one of our aspirations."