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Narendra Patni: India's infotech revolution pioneer is dead

By Aditi Divekar
June 06, 2014 16:30 IST
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Narendra Kumar Patni, pioneer of India’s information technology (IT) services revolution, passed away in the US on Tuesday. He was 71.

Patni is survived by wife Poonam and children Anirudh and Ambika.

He was to undergo a surgery in Boston. However, before the surgery, he suffered a cardiac arrest, said a person closely associated with Patni.

Born into a Marwari Jain family, Patni was an alumnus of Roorkee Engineering College (now Indian Institute of Technology-Roorkee) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He also had a master’s degree in business administration from MIT Sloan School of Management.

In 1972, Patni, along with his Poonam, was one of the first to have started the offshoring trend. Initially, the couple started operations from their apartment in the US; subsequently, they set up back-office operations in Pune, with 20 people.

Along with his brothers Ashok and Gajendra, Patni founded Patni Computer Systems (PCS) in 1978. Then, Narayana Murthy, Infosys executive chairman; S Gopalakrishnan, Infosys executive vice-chairman; and Nandan Nilekani, former chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India, were part of his team.

Eventually, Murthy, Nilekani and five other colleagues of Patni went on to set up Infosys, the second-largest Indian IT services provider today.

“I worked under Naren when I was head of software at PCS. He was a brilliant leader who brought out the best in all of us. His death is a big loss to all of us, his admirers,” said Narayana Murthy.

Vijay Khare, who worked at PCS for 30 years and reported directly to Patni, said, “He (Narendra) was a person with great ideas and an open mind… he was extremely humble… Starting from the security guard to his top officials, he knew people by first names; he was so humble. His demise is a personal loss to me.”

As the Indian IT sector went through a change during the 1999-2000 dotcom period and companies such as Infosys gathered pace, Patni and his brothers grappled with the hardware and software segments. In 2001, the trio decided to split the business into two.

Sale regret
In May 2011, Nasdaq-listed IT services company iGate completed the acquisition of PCS, then India’s sixth-largest software exporter, for $1.2 billion.

“He (Narendra Patni) felt immense regret that a smaller company was buying out Patni, because of the circumstances; he wished it was the other way round. Because of the fight between the Patni brothers, he felt he had no choice,” said Phaneesh Murthy, former chief executive of Nasdaq-listed iGate, who was instrumental in acquiring PCS. “Narendra Patni had built a large company from scratch. That is always a huge challenge. It is really unfortunate that one of the fathers of the Indian IT sector is no more with us.”

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Aditi Divekar
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