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Murthy, N. R. 1946–

N. R. Murthy
1946

Chairman and chief mentor, Infosys Technologies

Nationality: Indian.

Born: August 20, 1946, in Karnataka, India.

Education: University of Mysore, BTech, 1967; Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, MTech, 1969.

Family: Son of Nagavara Ramarao and Padmavathamma Rao; married Sudha Kulkarni, 1978; children: two.

Career: Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, India, 19691971, chief systems programmer; SESA, Paris, 19721974, systems engineer; Systems Research Institute, Pune, India, 19751977, project leader; Patni Computer Systems, Mumbai, India, 19771981, head software group; Infosys Technologies, Bangalore, India, 19812002, chairman and chief executive officer; 2002, chairman and chief mentor.

Awards: World Entrepreneur of the Year, Ernst & Young, 2003; corecipient of Asia's Businessmen of the Year, Fortune, 2003; named one of "Global Influentials," Time, 2002; Padma Shri, Republic of India, 2000; named one of "Entrepreneurs of the Year," BusinessWeek, 1999; J.R.D. Tata Corporate Leadership Award, All India Management Association, 19961997.

Address: Infosys Technologies, Plot No. 44 and 97A, Electronics City, Hosur Road, Electronic City, Bangalore, Karnataka 560 100, India; http://www.inf.com.

N. R. Murthy, longtime leader of the software-development company Infosys Technologies, became one of India's, and the world's, most highly esteemed managers. Though a wealthy man and a prime mover in India's booming software-outsourcing industry, he continued to live modestly and practice "compassionate capitalism," a philosophy that used free-market systems to create a better life for society as a whole.

FROM SOCIALIST STUDENT TO CAPITALIST ENTREPRENEUR

Born in 1946, N. R. Murthy grew up one of eight children in a middle-class family of high caste but meager means. His father was a math teacher, and both parents taught him strong values, such as working hard and serving the public good. Murthy grew up a socialist, which was typical at the time in India. He studied electrical engineering, earning a master's degree at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur.

During the 1970s he worked for a computer company in Paris, France. In 1974 Murthy decided to return to India, first touring the socialist countries of Eastern Europe. The harsh conditions there made Murthy realize that capitalism was not a sin. Before wealth could be dispersed, it must be created.

Back in India, Murthy began working in the software industry. There he saw how his country could harness its large pool of English-speaking, highly trained technical personnel who worked for a fraction of U.S. salaries. An Indian firm could supply Western companies with low-cost custom software by writing it in India. Murthy also wanted to contribute to his country, and by providing jobs locally large numbers of technicians would not have to leave India to find work. In 1981 Murthy and six other software engineers pooled their savings of about $1,000, and started Infosys in a Mumbai apartment. Murthy was the new company's chairman and CEO.

THE RISE OF INFOSYS

Infosys Technologies designed custom software for companies worldwide. But in 1981 the tightly regulated business environment of India made that difficult to accomplish. The company had to wait nearly a year for its first telephone line to be installed. It took over two years and 25 trips to Delhi to obtain import licenses for the company's first computers. Without computers at their Indian offices, employees had to travel abroad to work, often waiting weeks for travel permits and foreign currency. Despite these problems Infosys landed major accounts, including Reebok International, and managed to stay afloat.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and Communism in Eastern Europe, the Indian government liberalized its attitude toward capitalism and instituted free-market reforms in 1991. This made it possible for Indian companies to move goods, services, people, and currency more freely across national borders. The impact on Infosys was direct and rapid. It experienced annual growth rates of 27 percent to 106 percent during the 1990s, and acquired over three hundred new clients, many of them American giants like Citigroup, Aetna, Gap, Dell, and Cisco Systems. In March 2000 Infosys became the first Indian firm traded on an American stock exchange, the NASDAQ. Infosys continued to grow even in periods of stagnation and downturn for the American software industry. In 2004 Infosys was one of India's top three information-technology services firms, along with Wipro and Tata Consultancy Services. It had over 25,000 employees and earned record profits of $270 million on sales of $1 billion.

COMPASSIONATE CAPITALIST

Even though Murthy became one of India's most successful entrepreneurs, he remained committed to what he called "compassionate capitalism," spreading wealth to employees and Indian society in general, not just senior executives. Infosys paid high wages for the local market and was the first Indian company to offer stock options to its employees. The company built a 42-acre campus in Bangalore with employee exercise and relaxation facilities and cafeterias that were partly subsidized by the corporation.

"We all wanted to do something for our country," Infosys cofounder Nandan Nilekani told Newsweek International (September 27, 1999). By creating opportunities for people who previously thought the only way to get ahead was to migrate to the United States, Infosys helped establish an entire industry. India's National Association of Software and Service Companies estimated the country's software and service industry by 2003 had grown to 3,000 companies employing 600,000 people, earning total annual revenues of $12.2 billion.

Murthy also believed in contributing to his country as a whole. He told the New York Times, "In this country, people have to start putting the public ahead of the personal good" (December 16, 1999). Murthy served on several academic and government boards and established the Infosys Foundation in 1996. Headed by his wife, Sudha, the foundation established vocational training, science centers, hospital wards, and libraries in underprivileged and rural areas. Murthy won numerous national and international honors, including the Padma Shri in 2000, one of India's highest civilian awards for distinguished service to the nation, and Ernst & Young's World Entrepreneur of the Year in 2003.

In 2002 Murthy stepped down as CEO, but he retained the chairmanship and created the position of chief mentor. Although the original stock he owned in Infosys made him India's second-wealthiest person, Murthy continued to live modestly in a Spartan three-bedroom house. With no housekeeper, he began each day scrubbing the toilet, while his wife did all the family's cooking. He continued to dress simply and drive locally made cars, and by 2003 drew only a $44,000 annual salary. "If we want to sell capitalism to the people," Murthy explained to the New York Times, "we have to practice a lifestyle that does not seem unattainable. We want more and more people to become entrepreneurs. If the tea stall owner in a small village can say, 'Hey, these guys can do it; so can I,' and get his business into the next orbit, then our job is done" (December 16, 1999). He told the Ivey Business Journal, "Great leaders make people believe in themselves" (September/October 2001).

See also entry on Infosys Technologies Ltd. in International Directory of Company Histories.

sources for further information

Bernhut, Stephen, "Interview: N.R. Narayana Murthy, CEO, Infosys Technologies," Ivey Business Journal, SeptemberOctober 2001, pp. 5255.

Chandler, Clay, "They Get IT: The Dynamic Duo at the Top of Infosys Have Done Welland Good," Fortune International (Asia edition), February 17, 2003, p. 38.

Dugger, Celia W., "India's High-Tech, and Sheepish, Capitalism; A Sheepish Capitalism Grows In India's High-Technology Triangle," New York Times, December 16, 1999.

Mazumdar, Sudip, "The Pride of Bangalore: Infosys is a Software Success and Not Just in India," Newsweek International, September 27, 1999, p. 52.

Kris Swank

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