Bangalore: Co-founder and chief mentor of Infosys Technologies Ltd, N.R. Narayana Murthy, had an emotional day on Thursday as he bid farewell to Nandan Nilekani, who started the company with Murthy and five others. Nilekani is joining the government as chairperson of the Unique Identification Authority of India. Another co-founder, N.S. Raghavan, is also no longer with the firm, currently India’s second largest software exporter. Murthy spoke in an interview about Nilekani and how the company would cope with his absence. Edited excerpts:
Emotional momemt: Infosys’ co-founder N.R. Narayana Murthy. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
What is this 1, 2 and 4 jersey numbers and how come you are 4 and Nandan is 2?
Even though I founded the company, I had promised my boss at Patni Computer Systems that I would complete all my obligations to the company and then only leave and though I resigned on 29 December 1980, I completed my obligations on 17 March 1982, and left the company on the morning of 18 March 1982. So that’s how Raghavan became number one and Nandan became number two and Dinesh was number three and then I was number four. When we give the employee numbers, Gopalakrishnan, Shibulal were in the US. And that’s how Gopalakrishnan became five and Shibulal became six and Ashok Arora became seven.
So number one and two will never be worn again by any Infosys employee?
As a matter of principle, yes.
Would you call Nandan one of your favourite colleagues among the founders as well?
Yes. I have liked all of them. There is no doubt at all but certainly Nandan was one person with whom I had lot more interactions. We used to argue quite a lot, we used to differ quite a lot. We used to appreciate each other quite a lot.
Was it a special affection because he was the youngest of the founding members of Infosys?
He is probably the youngest of the founders because Nandan was born in 1956, Gopalakrishnan in 1955, though he was actually born in 1956. Because they wanted him to go to school pretty early because he probably was creating a lot of nuisance at home, probably his parents must have admitted saying that he is a year older. So the poor fellow is registered as 55 years old. I think Shibulal is also 55 years old, Dinesh is 55 years old, Mohan is 58 years old, Srinath is 59 or 60 years, something like that.
So the founders are not even waiting for the age of 60 years for them to walk away. Raghavan walked away at 57 years, Nandan at 53 years. Is there a feeling that once you are done with giving your best to Infosys, you walk your own way?
Nothing like that. I did complete my 60 years and even today, even though I am 63 years (old), even though I am non-executive chairman, I am very passionate about Infosys. I spend 12-14 hours a day here whenever I am in India. So I think it is the set of circumstances as such.
As far as Nandan is concerned, I think he was very passionate about serving a public cause. We at Infosys felt that when he is passionate about something like that, why not encourage him.
Was there any reluctance at the board?
Ideally, we would all have liked him to continue till he was 60. That is the year in which he had to retire. But realizing that he is passionate about getting into a new orbit, realizing that his heart was in making a difference to a larger number of people in the country, we all felt that we should encourage him.
If a duty of a national profile were to be offered to you, would you also choose the country over the company?
I had this opportunity in 1999. But that was the time that we had just taken the company to Nasdaq and I said no, my duty should be first Infosys. So, I didn’t take it up. I was 53 at that time.
Don’t you think it makes a big difference that Nandan is no longer there to interface with clients?
Certainly I think it will make a difference. But the beauty of this organization is that heals pretty quickly. While it is true that the departure of somebody as important as Nandan does leave an important void, the beauty of the organization is that it quickly fills that hole and moves on.
Was it an emotional moment yesterday for you?
It was a very emotional moment for all of us for various reasons. Somebody that you have walked this journey with for 30 years. I recruited Nandan into PCS in 1979 and so, in other words, it really is 30 years and six months. Secondly, his mother had come. This was the first time she had come to the campus. Thirdly, my wife Sudha was there. She doesn’t ordinarily come to the campus.
My son, because he is so passionate about Infosys, he is right now in Seattle, he went to our office at 4 o’clock in the morning.
To see the webcast?
Yes. He was working—he is a Microsoft fellow and doing his PhD at Harvard—up to 2 o’clock in the office and at 4 o’clock he was there to watch the webcast. So, in that sense, it was a very emotional moment. All the families were there and it was emotional.
Have you ever conceived of a time where a non-Infoscion will be a chairman of the Infosys board?
Yes. I think again this is not a done deal. I do believe that after I leave we are very likely to see a non-Infoscion founder as the chairman of Infosys.