Tuesday, April 7, 2015

N R Narayana Murthy - biography - Ritu Singh


Generally I do not read biographies, even the ones which are recommended of famous, successful people. That's because these books always go into a praising mode, highlighting every good decision and milestone achieved by its subject person, and hiding away the bad decisions and mistakes. Its specially worse for autobiographies, where the author might delve into a self praising monologue at times. The most used word in such a book would be the single letter word: 'I'. Its always 'I' did this, 'I' did that. 'I' fought, 'I' persisted and 'I' succeeded.

So it was with a little doubt that I chanced upon a small paperback biography of NRN, retailing for less than 100 Rs/-. I was surprised no one mentioned this to me, surely much more has been written about people who have achieved just 1% of NRN's success. So , off I went, and finished the book in 2 hours. (Yep, my old speed reading skills are still with me.)



I couldn't help write something about this book, and it's enviable genius subject. The book itself is written in the simplest english you could find, with no big words to show off the author's control over grammar. There is a little flashback-style to it, NRN's childhood days are covered only from the third chapter onwards..but most of the book is in chronological order. The last two chapters are about Infoys and the Infosys foundation, and I felt it was more like an advertisement than part of the memoir. But the book covers NRN's life from this childhood days till until he stepped down as CEO, and some more. There are some rare pictures from various stages of his life. Kids are gonna love this  ! not to mention the target audience - young twenty something Indians looking for inspiration.

What I could infer:

1: NRN is highly intelligent. There is no denying his brilliant mind allowed him to grasp things others would overlook. He was smart enough to get selected for IIT. Twice !. And then, he went to work over there. There is a part in the book where NRN felt that his life and work at Patni was too slow, and he wanted to speed up. There is a school of thought that brilliant people are generally more successful, but nothing has been concluded.

2: Hard work. NRN proved time and again that there was no substitute for hard work. The book makes it very clear that he worked well into the night, and weekends and holidays in his initial struggle at Infosys often having to neglect his personal life as well. This was one reason why he didn't want his wife to work at Infosys, because he didn't want his family to be neglected. The other, was that he is a man of principles, and didn't want it to look like nepotism.

3: Save. Save whatever you can. During the first years at Infosys, the Murthys kept a strong watch on what they did with their earnings. 1980's India was just getting liberalized, money was hard to come by. The book makes it clear that the Murthy's saved whatever they could, without wasting anything on luxuries. The first office setup was in their spare bedroom !Sudha Murthy used to walk 4 kms to her office, it is mentioned in the book. And the women used to cook for their colleagues.  And they did not have even have a TV at home for a long time. (But then, all they could watch was Doordarshan, right ?). NRN used to meet his clients on bi-cycles and scooters ! Nowadays, just to show off, vendors will rent out cars when they go on client visits. Saving was an important reason why Infosys survived. And grew. The credit-card swiping, expensive-smartphone wielding youngsters of today would never understand the meaning of this simple 4 letter word- save- and how much it can change your life.  NRN and Infy only began spending when the company turned profitable, and only went public long after that. There is something evergreen to be learned here.

4. Values. He is a man of principles. And words like honesty and integrity were more than just words for him. NRN did not simply want to deliver something to his customers, he wanted to build relationships. When he and his six colleagues left Patni, they never poached any clients. And when they faced beurocratic issues in India, they chose to persist and wait. The book says they used to make a lot of phone calls from a public phone, because they did not have a phone of their own ! And when they travelled abroad, they tried to save every nickle and dime, so that that money could be re-purposed positively for the company.  NRN still travells in business class.

Having said all this, it is sad that Infosys, the company built upon such strong core values, is no longer that place.  Yes, they have a huge campus. They provide facilities to their employees no other Indian company can boast of. But the workforce itself is bloated. Today in a typical project, only 10% of the team members work. And they do about 90% of the total work. The rest are simply on the team for billing purposes. Attrition rates are high. They way they judge and select talent is skewed. This year they gave their employees their lowest ever hike, according to the papers. Of the seven founding members, except NRN, all have turned into millionaires with other business interests. NRN was called back to the company when management failed in leading the company positively.

Looks like the management at Infosys is the one who was to read this book. They have to know where they came from.  And for anyone dreaming of starting up a billion dollar enterprise.

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