In the mid-1970s,before he became the founder-CEO of Infosys Technologies Ltd,N.R. Narayana Murthy was thrown in a prison cell for three days in the then Communist-ruled Bulgaria after being accused by a co-passenger on a train of running down communismin the course of a conversation with a girl on the train. The experience,he says,put him on the path to entrepreneurship and the founding of Infosys. In his first book,A Better India: A Better World,Murthy,now chief mentor and chairman of the board at Infosys,outlines his journey as he created one of the biggest entrepreneurial successes in liberalised India. The book,published by Penguin,is a collection of 38 talks and speeches he delivered on various topics around the world over the last eight years. Ahead of the book release by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,Murthy discusses the book and his ideas in the context of the present world situation. Excerpts of an interview with our correspondent
You have said before that you would not want to write a book.
I didnt want to write a book on Infosys,but my son has been talking to me for the last three years about either writing on Infosys or putting together my speeches. Finally,I decided to put my speeches on values and leadership together. In my opinion,the basic infrastructure of the development puzzle consists of three pieces. One,is the value system of peopletheir hard work,honesty,decency,compliance with law,and aspiration. Second,we need a cadre of leadership that has internalised these values so as to serve as a role model for the people. Third,is the ability of the elite in a society to shun the creation of asymmetry of benefits in their favour. For example,all of us send our children to English-medium schools and ask children of the poor to go to vernacular schools. What we are doing,inevitably,is preventing opportunity for those children. This is a classical mentality of the rich and elite. So,only when we have a society that satisfies all these three basic requirementsvalue-based people,leadership,and an elite that relates to the reality around uswill we see any development in society. I have been thinking about this for a long time and then I said maybe I should give a series of lectures on these themes. Thats how these lectures came about.
Where do you see India now in terms of the development puzzle? Do you see things changing?
It is changing but we still have a lot of work to do. In Franklin Roosevelts Four Freedoms speech,he said a true democracy is where there is freedom of speech and expression,freedom of religion,freedom from want,and freedom from fear. We have freedom of speech and expression and we have,to a certain extent,freedom of religion. Freedom from want is not there for a significant percentage of the population. When our own government is talking about 300 million people or so earning Rs 545 a month,that is not really freedom from want. And if we look at the Rama Sene etc,we realise we dont have freedom from fear. While we have made some progress,we still have a great distance to go.
You write in the book that when you returned to India from Europe,you contemplated a plunge into politics but later felt you were not ready for it. Weve also heard that in recent years,you have contemplated reviving the Swatantra Party of Rajaji. What is your current position?
While I do appreciate the value of independents like Meera Sanyal,Captain Gopinath or Mallika Sarabhai,I still believe that a major transformation can only be brought about by a group of people who come together with a similar set of principles,similar set of values,fight the election,form the government and push those policies. I believe that there is a need to enhance the quality of the existing party or maybe start a party that stands for all the good that we all want.
In the context of the global economy,is it the end of the road for capitalism as we have known it. Will we see a turn towards a middle path?
Entrepreneurship,which is the bedrock of capitalism,will continue to receive attention,will flourish and will bring benefits to people. What is happening and what we have seen on Wall Street and elsewhere is not the failure of entrepreneurs,it is the greed,vanity and ego of managers of large corporations who seek undue benefit for themselves. However,the focus on entrepreneurship,on innovation and hard work will continue. Therefore,I believe that capitalism with moderationor compassionate capitalism,which is all about capitalism of mind and socialism of the heart kind-of-stuffwill continue to flourish. So,I dont think it is the end for capitalism.
Do you fear that globalisation itself will be affected with countries resorting to protectionism?
No. What we have seen in the last few months is an extraordinary event that perhaps occurred during the Great Depression. So when you have such a protracted recession,it is natural for some societies to resort to a certain level of extremism. When so many people are out of jobs,houses are foreclosed and the government has to pump in so much money,it is only natural that there is certain level of protectionism. But thats a temporary phenomenon and then,globalisation,exchange of good ideas and innovations will all once again receive a boost.
In your speeches,you do not delve too much into terrorism,security and geo politics. In one of your talks you do mention that international trade can be key to addressing conflict issues. Can you elaborate?
All over the world,youngsters are bothered about a better future for themselves. When they lose faith in the administration or the government,they resort to violence. International trade is one instrument for making sure that poorer countries become more prosperous. That is why we have to embrace globalisation,embrace international trade so that the countries that are involved in such trade realise that they have a lot to lose if they resort to violence.
You also briefly refer to climate change in one of your recent talks. How important is it for corporations and governments to factor in climate change in the planning process?
In my lecture at INSEAD business school in December 2008,I spoke on three major challenges for young corporate leaders. First,globalisationhow to ensure corporate leaders leverage the power of multicultural talent in a corporation operating without national boundaries. Second,I talked about ensuring that compassionate capitalism is adopted. Third,I said it is the responsibility of every corporate leader that they reduce carbon emissions. When every citizen makes attempts,day after day,to reduce emissions,we will automatically make sure it is a safe planet.
Recent corporate events in India and abroad have vindicated the corporate governance values that you have espoused through the years.
All that I have espoused in my career is the power of values. I have always said that if we conduct our business legally and ethicallyone,we can sleep better,two we can attract good customers and good employees and three,we will run better businesses and make better profits.
Are you satisfied with the spread of technology initiatives for e-governance and improvement of life?
We have to realise that technology is about reducing cost,improving productivity,making life more comfortableand who needs it more than the poor? So a country like India has to embrace technology more than the rich countries need to.
Since you dont have a full time executive function at Infosys,how do you direct your energies?
I continue to be associated with several universities and boards. I am also involved with several ground-level initiatives at Infosys. Even today,I am in all of Infosyss physical infrastructure projects. I am involved in improving the quality of our education and research wing and I am involved in helping our HRD people in improving systems as well as our banking product. So,I am involved quite a lot in Infosys in talking about the policies and strategies of Infosys.
What advice would you give a student set to enter the job market at the start of a recession and the tail end of a boom?
I would like to tell him or her to have ability. Second,to take up any opportunity that comes his or her way. I would tell them to work hard,to be honest and to have a good attitude so that organisations recognise their value. Fourth,I would ask for the interest of society and the nation to be kept in all they do.