'Our youngsters must consolidate India's progress'
Caring for people comes naturally to Infosys Chairman NR Narayana Murthy. At the very last minute, he realised that this interview with Maheshwer Peri of Careers360 clashed with an important internal meeting. But the engineer by training would rather reschedule the meeting than the interview. A stickler for his word, Narayana Murthy discusses affirmative action, premium schooling and the mantras that drive his life
You are one of those students who actually couldn't afford IIT. What is your advice to students who can't afford quality education?
I think today in India, the quality of education at second tier colleges in engineering, medicine, science etc, has improved enormously. At the end of the day, in life, more than what degree you get from what college, what's important is whether you have discipline, commitment, hard work, focus and, of course, a little bit of smartness.
So, I'd suggest to students not to worry about which college they go to as long as they get the best out of whatever education they are being given.
Do you think your future would have been different had you gone to IIT at the very first go?
I personally don't think your future depends on which college you go to. For example, Donald Knuth, one of the most famous computer scientists, went to Case Institute of Technology for his first degree, which is a not a No 1 university. But he is probably one of the finest computer scientists. So I feel youngsters should not get too worried, if they can utilise 99 per cent of the opportunities given in college.
Image: Narayana Murthy
'The youngsters of today have more opportunities'
Is there any difference in the value system and expectations between that of your generation and today's?
I believe that each generation is better than the previous one. Therefore, I believe that the modern day boys and girls are much better than my generation of boys and girls. They have more opportunities, more channels to learn from, they have much more competition, they have higher aspirations. Therefore the youngsters of today are definitely better than the youngsters of my generation.
Infosys some time back came up with a project to train underprivileged kids for software development etc. How is the project going?
We had a project to help scheduled caste and scheduled tribe youngsters become market worthy for obtaining jobs as software engineers. These were all engineers who had certain percentage of marks and we wanted to demonstrate that these youngsters are as good as any and better than many. Therefore we mounted a special programme, special because it was about 89 boys and girls from Karnataka Engineering colleges, we gave them certain scholarships and the programme was for eight months and so. It was very intensive.
I told them right at the beginning of the programme that it was a historic experiment that will prove that they were no less than anybody else. What was very impressive was that every one of those 89 kids accepted that challenge and at the end of the exercise 84 out of 89 kids got jobs using normal competitive recruitment procedure from Infosys, IBM Wipro, TCS and many, many companies.
This experiment proved that if we can provide the required level of attention, if we can raise the confidence of those youngsters, if we can ensure that they have decent study facilities, nutrition, access to books, hostel facilities, they will perform as good as any.
Lots of students from India go for foreign education and also settle down abroad at times. Was it good for India and is it good for India now?
Well, my view is that in a nation of 1.2 billion people, we need a small percentage of smart Indians to go outside to succeed there and conduct themselves as good citizens of that society. This way the respect for India will go up. Look at how the people who went from India to the US became very successful in the Silicon Valley. These people have raised the image of India tremendously. Look at people like Indira Nooyi, Rajat Gupta, Gururaj Deshpandey, Kanwal Rekhi. Many of these people, by their entrepreneurship, managerial talent, leadership talent, have raised the image of India. So, I am all for a certain percentage of Indians to go outside, succeed there, conduct themselves as good citizens and raise the image of India.
Image: Narayana Murthy
'We need more engineers'
Do you ever think that engineers are actually betraying the profession by just getting into coding?
No, today for example in the US whether you are an engineering, physics or economics student, most of them end up on Wall Street. Why? Because it gives good salaries. So, there is nothing wrong with our youngsters aspiring for high salaries and it so happens that the IT industry in India gives them good jobs with disposable income.
The solution to tackling this problem is to produce even larger number of engineers so that we have engineers to build bridges, we have engineers to build power plants, we have engineers to build shipyards, we have engineers to work in factories etc.
Will we see you being a teacher in the future?
Even today, I do give several lectures every year. I have, you know, spent some time at Stanford Graduate School of Business and given some lectures. I've given lectures at India's management schools at Bangalore, Ahmedabad. But I don't know whether I'll do it in a structured manner, because right now I am very busy and travel a lot too.
Have your professional achievements given you more satisfaction vis-a-vis non-professional projects?
No, I think anything that can bring smile on the faces of people is what makes me happy. For example, I've gone and participated in Akshyapatra activities in different cities and when you see youngsters, schoolchildren, they eat well and are smiling, they are happy and I think, there it is.
Did you not tell your father-in-law you wanted to be politician?
No, those were different days. I was a strong leftist then. I wanted to be a politician and all of that, but I think, you know, I have realised that I have other interests and therefore that's not my priority at this stage.
Image: Murthy gets TiE Entrepreneurship Award from Apurv Bagri (right) and Shridhar Iyengar (left).
'I'm too old for a PhD'
Is Infosys the biggest legacy that you are leaving behind?
No, I think as long as people say he was a fair person, that's sufficient. I want to be known as a fair person. Nothing more matters.
You wanted to do a PhD some time back. Is the dream still on?
No, I think I'm too old. But my son is doing it, so I am happy.
Who were your biggest influences during your student days?
Well, I had excellent teachers. I had a wonderful teacher in high school -- Mr KV Narayan, he was the headmaster of the Shardavilla High School in Mysore. I had an extraordinary professor in Civil Engineering at the National Institute of Engineering -- Dr N Krishnamurti. There have been many teachers.
Of course, my parents had tremendous influence. They were the ones who taught us the importance of good values; they lived those values so absolutely.
Your advice to students...
We are in an extraordinary time in the history of India. For the first time in 300 years India has received recognition from the developed nations, for the first time India has something to contribute to the global bazaar. Our economy is growing well, India has become No 1 in cricket. We have done a decent job in the Commonwealth Games, our exports are growing, and our foreign exchanges are pretty comfortable, it is now that our youngsters must work hard, must have high aspirations, must have high commitment and consolidate this progress, so that the benefits of all the wonderful things can be enjoyed by every Indian. Therefore our youngsters today have a tremendous responsibility to make this progress permanent.
Image: Narayana Murthy