Bangalore: In an interview, Infosys Technologies Ltd chief operating officer S.D. Shibulal talks about Infosys Technologies Ltd and Generation Next. Joining him in this chat is Shibulal’s daughter, Shruti, 24, in her first interview ever. Shruti Shibulal has opened a fine dining restaurant, Caperberry, in Bangalore and plans to open a second before the year ends. Edited excerpts:
Infosys has this code of conduct where you don’t treat it as a family business and so the founders haven’t really encouraged other family members to be a part of the organization. What was the brief to your daughter on dealing with the Infosys ecosystem considering the stake she has in the company?
S.D. Shibulal: I think there was a clear distance maintained between the professional and the personal life. We bring work home all the time because we work from home, but we don’t mix work with the family life. I think Team Infosys is all about leadership by example—it is what our kids have seen. They have seen us keeping the separation; we have (a) clear distance between corporate property and our personal property.
Legacy continues: Infosys Technologies chief operating officer S.D. Shibulal with daughter Shruti. Shibulal thinks Team Infosys is all about leadership by example and that is what their kids have seen.
All these instances have made it very clear to them that this is not a family organization, it is a very professional organization, it is run professionally and those value get transmitted automatically— that’s what I believe.
But you know in Shruti’s case, for instance, she didn’t want to be a part of Infosys, she wasn’t really interested in technology. But for somebody else, who happens to be related to the co-founders, if they are genuinely interested, why disqualify them because of their “family connection”?
S.D. Shibulal: They are not disqualified, but being a very professional organization we have built a leadership layer; those leadership layers are already in place. There is another issue because if one of our children really wants to join Infosys and they get selected through the proper channels, you still have an issue with the regulatory framework because you need government permission, as far as I understand, for one of the children or relatives to join the organization.
The Infosys story gave this country and the middle class in this country hope—and the power—to actually believe that dreams can come true. Do you think that has been the catalyst for Shruti’s entrepreneurial plunge?
S.D. Shibulal: I think the Infosys values and philosophy had played a very important role in her life, one way or the other, because our values and our beliefs transcend the organization and our life. She has intuitively taken in (a) lot of those values and philosophies; they have had a tremendous impact on her. Now the challenges she faces are very different from what we faced. We came up in a world where the regulatory framework was very different, it was a licence Raj—forex regulations, you name it. She lives in a world of tremendous speed and the opportunities come up and down in no time.
You were studying in the US. You did your graduation there and then you worked for a bit for Merrill Lynch. Why the decision to actually come back to India and start something on your own?
Shruti Shibulal: I was not comfortable at Merrill Lynch. After a while I was looking at myself, thinking about the 20-year plan, which is something my dad talks about quite a bit. I was living in New York, which I absolutely loved, but as far as work went, I knew there was something, there was a different calling.
So when did you finally realize that your calling was actually turning entrepreneur and that too in one of the hardest businesses in India—hospitality? It is a business where you have to deal with every regulatory agency possible, licences are a nightmare.
Shruti Shibulal: I came back to India and the idea of becoming an entrepreneur was there, but not specifically in hospitality. Through common friends, I ended up meeting my business partner—chef Abhijit Saha, former executive chef at the Park. He had this great idea of what is now Caperberry as well as a couple of other projects and basically his vision and my vision fit together perfectly. Our idea, or value, our work ethic, the long-term investment strategy matched.
But didn’t you consider New York, because it would have been perhaps a lot easier for an entrepreneur to actually get started there as opposed to in India? You would have been equally comfortable there considering you have lived half your life in the US anyway?
Shruti Shibulal: Two reasons why I wouldn’t do it in New York. One is because I have so many resources here, honestly, and my family is here; I have this great support system and I love India and I was very happy to come back to India. And the second reason is that...there is a lot more opportunity here. (In) New York you are one in five billion restaurants.
It is a saturated market already?
Shruti Shibulal: Absolutely, but it is also a great market. There are all kinds of ideas, innovations that are happening there. But here, not a lot of people are innovating because they are scared or they don’t have the opportunity; the talent is here, but it hasn’t been developed. And so you want to do something that is more relevant in a place where it is appreciated, where you can make that difference. So coming back to India and doing this was a given for me.
Did you have to try and convince your parents or did they buy into your idea instantly?
Shruti Shibulal: I don’t think they bought into it instantly, it took some time. But once they knew this is what I am really interested in, they were on board, they were very supportive. One thing that is really interesting is that my dad, for instance, did not meet my partner for six months after signing on. He just let me be. Anytime I want advice, say management advice, there is a specific situation where I am in a fix, then I will approach him, but he doesn’t bring me unwanted advice.
When everybody talks about your net worth and the many many zeros that are attached to you because of your stake in Infosys— how do you deal with it as a 24-year-old?
Shruti Shibulal: No. I mean, honestly, it’s not something I think about. I think that people that I have in my life, the friends that I have had since I was a baby, they keep me very grounded. It is obviously a great advantage, opportunity, whatever you want to call it. It’s a blessing and I am very grateful for it. But it doesn’t define me.