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The Humble Farmer and Narayana Murthy

Omkar Goswami


Until a few days ago, I thought it would be better to keep my counsel on the Honourable Humble Farmer Deve Gowda’s diatribes directed towards N. R. Narayana Murthy and Infosys. For one, Murthy is like a friend and an elder brother and has been a guru and role model for me in many aspects of my work. For another, I happen to be an independent director on the board of Infosys, and whatever I write can be construed as being biased.  


But being the way I am — and hopefully will always be — I thought it is time to write a few hard truths and then let you, the reader, make up your mind. There are just three things I want to focus on: the role of Murthy in the new Bangalore Airport; what a company like Infosys and people like Murthy mean to the image of India and the aspirations of our youth; and who will history judge as the more capable human being, Murthy or Deve Gowda?


I have some understanding of the amount of time and effort Murthy spent in getting the Bangalore Airport project off the ground. Believe me, there were hundreds of glitches between the Karnataka Government, the Airports Authority of India, and the bureaucrats at the Ministry of Civil Aviation as well as their counterparts in the Ministry of Finance. Let me share with you just one example, going back to the spring of 2003. There were serious delays in the file movement between Civil Aviation and the Ministry of Finance. Although he has a non-executive chairman and hence, technically, a fiduciary figurehead, Murthy personally flew to Delhi to meet Atal Behari Vajpayee and Jaswant Singh; interacted with bureaucrats in both the ministries; and actually succeeded in getting Singh to expedite the file flow and decision-making process. I know the details of this instance because I ended up liaising between Murthy and the concerned civil servants at the Ministry of Finance. The fact is that he did this kind of intense networking on several occasions — doing whatever he could to hasten the venture. In the process, he didn’t always win friends, especially in the bureaucracy. But everyone realised his good intent. And it is fairly safe to guess that the files of the Bangalore Airport project will have still been gathering dust in sundry cupboards of New Delhi had it not been for Murthy’s efforts.


What do people like Murthy, Nandan Nilekani, Ratan Tata, Azim Premji, S. Ramadorai, and  companies like TCS, Wipro and Infosys mean for India? To put it bluntly, these corporations  along with some others like Tata Steel, Ranbaxy, Dr. Reddy’s and Bharat Forge, have put India on the map. They have proved that we can have best-in-class operations; that we can operate profitably in the global arena; that we are not afraid of competition; that we can attract, mould and motivate the best global talent; and that incorporating the highest standards of ethics, governance and transparency in no way comprises the quest for growth, scale and profitability. By their deeds, these people and their companies have created the pro-India wave that we now witness everywhere. They have helped remould the image of this nation. They have given our youth hope and confidence to go forth with our head held high. As Sanjay Labroo, the CEO of Asahi India Glass told me recently, “Infosys single-handedly created a new model, hope and aspiration for corporate India.”


As a fiduciary, it does not behove of me to sing praises of Infosys. Others have done it often enough. There is just one fact that I want to highlight: from the very beginning,  Infosys has always met or exceeded its quarterly, half yearly and annual earning guidances. To me that is creating a corporate culture of excellence.


Finally, the question of history. Five or ten years down the line, who do you think will educated Indians consider to have done more for the image and position of their nation: a JRD, a Ratan, an Azim, a Murthy, a Parminder, an Anji Reddy or Mr. H.D. Deve Gowda? I reckon that’s a no-brainer. Pity our Humble Farmer thinks otherwise.


Published: Business World, November 2005


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