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Infosys is an absolute meritocracy, says Narayana Murthy

Infosys is an absolute meritocracy, says Narayana Murthy
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First Published: Fri, Apr 15 2011. 10 37 PM IST

Thinking ahead: Murthy says his passion is to create a better society for future citizens. Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
Thinking ahead: Murthy says his passion is to create a better society for future citizens. Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
Updated: Fri, Apr 15 2011. 10 37 PM IST
Bangalore: For 30 years he has been the most visible mascot for not only Infosys Technologies Ltd, India’s second-largest software exporter, but to a large extent for the sector as a whole. However, for N.R. Narayana Murthy, chairman of the board and chief mentor of Infosys, 2011 will be a momentous year both on the personal and professional fronts.
Thinking ahead: Murthy says his passion is to create a better society for future citizens. Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
On 20 August, when he turns 65, he becomes chairman emeritus, an “advisory role with no strategy or operational play”. Sometime this month-end, he is likely to become a grandfather for the first time, a role he says he is “looking forward to”. Meanwhile, son Rohan marries the heiress to the TVS-Amalgamations Group in June. Murthy, after a long time, is planning to have a holiday with his wife after the dust settles on these events.
However, at Infosys, his “middle child” (born after daughter Akshata and before Rohan), he has a few last things to fix, before he can take it easy. The company, long seen as setting the pace in the sector, has grown slower over the last couple of quarters than peers Tata Consultancy Services Ltd and Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp., even as it protects its industry leading margins. The younger generation of leaders in Infosys are seeking more important roles. At 6 pm, on 30 April, Murthy promises that all the succession related issues would be settled. Murthy spoke in an interview over lunch at the Infosys campus after the earnings announcement on Friday on a range of issues, including the future of the Indian IT sector, challenges before Infosys, succession planning and life beyond the company. Edited excerpts:
Decent set of numbers. But markets seem to be disappointed...
Well I understand that. After all the industry has been performing pretty well, there are always higher and higher expectations. The markets have been kind to us. But there are times when they are not happy with us. We should accept that with the same level of equanimity, when the market was lauding us.
There is this perception that your growth has lagged behind your peers over the last couple of quarters.
Well, yes and no. Remember, we are growing on a large base. We have done well this time too. Last April, we said we would grow between 16-18%. We have delivered 25% plus growth. The industry growth rate according to Nasscom is around 17-18%. We have grown 50% more than the industry growth rate on such a large base. Of course can we do better, yes, we can.
Infosys has had this reputation of planning through everything to the smallest detail. Why does then there seem to be a little degree of dissonance in leadership moves?
Even today we believe in thorough planning. There is no dissonance. Let me explain. Dinesh (K. Dinesh, a co-founder) had expressed his desire to step down because of health-related issues and wanted to lead a slightly more relaxed (pace of life). He has done this marathon for 30 years. As far as Mohan(das Pai) is concerned, he wanted to give other people in the company an opportunity. Look, he was probably the only CFO (of a major company) who decided that he would move to HR to give a very talented and younger Bala (krishnan, the present CFO) an opportunity to run the show. So when he said he wants to move to a bigger canvas, as he had addressed challenges here, we said fine. Of course, I would have loved if he continued with the company. There are no issues at all.
For instance I gave up the MD position when I was 52, when nobody was expecting me to do. That is the culture in this company.
Outside of the founders, Pai was one of the most visible faces of the company. He was seen as somebody who helped the founders build the company to the current level and the external perception was that he was maybe looking for a bigger role. Was his departure connected to this aspiration?
Absolutely not. He always wanted to give more opportunities to youngsters and wanted to do other things on a bigger canvas. Look, Nandan (Nilekani, also a co-founder) went and is today adding significant value to the country. Mohan is on the board of Sebi (Securities and Exchange Board of India). He is on the International Accounting Standards Board. He is on several committees. He has a strong desire to make a difference in the higher education sector in the country, so we said, why not? Of course, Mohan along with me will continue to advise Ramdas Kamath, who is the head of our global infrastructure. The only difference is that Mohan and I will be doing it on a pro bono basis.
If there has been one criticism against Infosys, it is the belief that there is a glass ceiling for non-founders. Now, post 30 April, will that be permanently repudiated?
Infosys is an absolute meritocracy. Even in a meritocracy, other things being equal, you have to give opportunity to the more experienced candidate. Whether it was Nandan, Kris or Shibu, they are absolutely top class and they have been running this marathon longer than some others. Their is no question of (any discrimination) between founder, non-founder. I have no hesitation in saying we are the most professional company in the world.
Is the younger generation of leaders in Infosys a bit more hungrier than the current senior leadership, say for instance on acquisitions?
In terms of commitment, passion or energy, I don’t think the founder-professionals have lagged behind in anyway. Even on acquisitions we have looked at issues based on our strategy.
As you prepare to step down, what is your own vision and aspiration for Infosys?
I don’t think, revenues, profits are the kind of parameters alone by which a company needs to be measured. I want Infosys to be a company which is globally respected and in where people belonging to different nationalities, races and religious beliefs will work with intense competition but utmost courtesy, dignity and co-operation in adding greater value to our stakeholders day after day.
Any unfinished business?
We are all running a relay here. When you run a part of the relay and pass on the baton, there is no sense of unfinished business in your mind. There is just the sense of having done your part to the best of your ability. That is it. The hope is to pass on the baton to somebody who will run faster and run a better marathon.
What are the key challenges for Infosys and for the Indian IT sector as a whole?
We have several challenges both for the company and the sector. How do we move up the value chain and get better per capita revenue? How do we distinguish ourselves from the rest of the players even while retaining the margin, which I think is very important. We have to become more multi-cultural.
McKinsey says Indian IT can get to about $300 billion by 2020 (from the current $60 billion), for which we need to get better and more talent. Seventy-five percent of our engineers are not employable. How can we change that? There is no magic silver bullet for all these problems. The only way to solve these is to sit down with an open mind and co-operate with each other.
After 20 August, will you continue to have an office at Infosys, will you spend more time at your venture capital fund Catamaran? What are your feelings. Do you aspire for a role in public life?
It’s like getting your daughter married. You are sad and happy at the same time. Sad that she is going away but happy that she is going to have a much better, brighter future with a younger person. My colleague Arjun does a good job at Catamaran. My passion is to create a better society for our future citizens. So any platform which helps me to do that, is what I will do.
I am on the board of several entities. My life has revolved around Infosys ever since its existence and it will always be a part of me, I can’t think of retirement. As chairman emeritus, the management of the company will have the right to consult me. I won’t be coming to Infosys every day. But after running this marathon for 30 years, I intend to take it a bit easy first (laughs). I deserve a holiday but haven’t decided on the venue.
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First Published: Fri, Apr 15 2011. 10 37 PM IST