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Narayana Murthy: A Tribute

Omkar Goswami


On Sunday, 20 August, N.R. Narayana Murthy will turn 60 and, in line with Infosys policy, will step off as an executive. With it will end an incredible era at Infosys. The greatest legacy of the man is that his departure won’t matter a jot to the company. While his colleagues will miss him, Infosys will continue on Monday as if nothing had happened — scarcely missing a beat in its race to become even larger and more profitable.


Much of Murthy belongs to the public domain, for he and his successor, Nandan Nilekani, are probably two of India’s most sought out corporate personalities in print and electronic media. The words here are my impressions of him as a friend, as a person who shares several interests, and from my interactions as a director on the Infosys board.


The first word that comes to my mind is ‘ethics’. There are very few people in business who are as principled, honest and ethically driven as Murthy. In today’s age, to be personally moral, ethical, truthful and upright are hugely commendable traits. For Murthy, it is much more. He has driven these values throughout the organisation. His stance is simple: “I’d rather lose the business than compromise on ethics.” I have seen this one more than once occasion; and each time, Murthy hasn’t budged an inch. Ethics to him is not just desisting from doing anything that doesn’t smell right; it is simply not tolerating it at any level of the organisation.


He has suffered for it. Many businessmen who publicly hobnobbed with him at industry fora privately sniggered by calling him “the Pope”. It hurt him. But it mattered not a jot in his way of thinking. To him, there is an honest and truthful way of conducting oneself in person and business. Nothing else matters.


The second word that I associate with Murthy is ‘leadership’. He leads by example and by trust. Time and time again, people have stretched themselves beyond their known limits because Murthy asked them to get something done. Because they knew that he wouldn’t ask something that he couldn’t do himself. Because they respect him. Because he has instilled in them the credo that striving for the public good is greater than seeking private wants. Because he embodies these principles.


The third word is ‘empowering’. “What kind of a leader are you”, Murthy asks, “if you don’t build a team of people who are better than you?” He absolutely believes in this. Thus, the company hires the best; empowers them; aligns them to the same ethical core; and then expects them to stretch beyond all targets, because that is what everyone does, from Murthy downwards.


The fourth and fifth words are ‘processes’ and ‘data’. Over the years, Murthy and his colleagues have ensured that Infosys is an empirically backed, super-fast, process-driven company. Every aspect of the business has clear processes and measurement metrics; every function has enough bench strength to deal with exigencies; and no decision is taken without hard data. Another Murthy aphorism: “In God we trust. For everything else, give us data.”


The sixth is ‘closure’. While Murthy will, Voltaire-like, defend to death your right to disagree, everything has to have its closure. You can’t go home without having taken a decision, and having put it to action.


The seventh are eighth words are best said in Murthy-speak. “Profits are an opinion. Cash in the bank is fact.” And “A company with dirty toilets can’t be great.”


Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Fermat’s Last Theorem, Transparency, Corporate Governance, Global Delivery Model, Richard Feynman, Fuzzy Logic, Admiration for Sudha, Pride in His People, Inspecting Toilets, Inspiring, Leading. Proving that a poor school teacher’s son could dare to dream. And make that dream come true. Narayana Murthy — Mentor, Exemplar, Friend.


PS. If Murthy knew I was writing this, he would have asked me not to. And I wouldn’t have listened.          


Published: Business World, August 2006


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