Sunday, August 21, 2011

Farewell Mr. Murthy

Newspapers are talking about the N.R. Narayana Murthy era as he transitions out of Infosys on his 65th birthday today. Business channels are running his interviews alongside programs depicting the simple origins of this terrific company. Watching them, one gets the sense that here was an extraordinary leader & visionary who possessed great integrity & values to build Infosys into what it is today.

Much of what is said is true. Being a visionary leader with integrity did lay a rock solid foundation to success. However, remember that Leadership is a diffuse term as pointed out here and here.  And the human mind is not very expansive when it comes to retrospection. It prefers to look at a situation and draw succinct conclusions on why it is so. We are a countdown generation. 'Top 3 Reasons Why It Happened' is our i-Phone Playlist Favorite rather than 'How to Assimilate the Complex Interplay among Varied Dimensions & Levers to Determine Why It Happened'.

At the public farewell to Narayana Murthy yesterday in the Infy campus, I was privileged to witness some of this interplay that made NRN great. When speaker after speaker extolled the virtues of this man and regaled us with stories from the past, when videos depicted a measure of his persona and his phenomenal rise, and when NRN himself came on stage to exhort us to dream of a $60 billion and $600 billion Infosys - it became increasingly obvious that his success cannot be solely explained by the 'vision-leadership-integrity' triad.

Kris Gopalakrishnan, CEO of Infosys says that the first call made to him that morning is from NRN at 6:10 to apprise him of some status, and NRN had preceded this call with an email at 5:43AM. Mind you, this is NRN's penultimate day. Bill Gates sends his wishes in a recorded clip and looks forward to working with NRN on philanthropic causes. Deepak Satwalekar, Independent Director of Infosys (and MD & CEO of HDFC Standard Life Insurance) mentions that here is a man who played with a straight bat and never preached what he did not practice. Dr. Rohan Murthy, his son, thanks us and former employees for the joy we brought to him, and indirectly to his family. KV Kamath, Independent Director (and incoming co-Chairman of Infosys), tells us how NRN had the ability to look at seemingly complex technology and provide insight on its relevance to the common man. And how he is always generous with his time and willing to mentor you and back you. 

As 2500+ Infoscions rise to applaud as NRN walks on stage - and a lot more watch the event  live on their desktops - he tells us that for him, the past is dead and gone. The past is only useful to draw lessons from and apply to the present in order to create a better future. "In God We Trust" he had once said, "but for everything else, we believe in data". Well, on Friday, data just flowed. He is confident that Infosys can add value for the next 200 years. We get a lesson on per capita revenue productivity and how we must look at competing developing countries like China, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan that are 20% higher on this metric. He articulates the need for fast-track leadership programs to nurture and motivate top talent. Take quick decisions, remain humble and be kind to ex-employees who chase a different dream is his advice.

From this evening, certain memories will remain. Mrs. Sudha Murthy in a video talks about the Rs. 10,000 she had lent to start Infosys. We all know this. But did you know that she had actually saved Rs. 10,250 for emergency purposes? "Even then I did not give him all my savings. The other Rs. 250 went back into the emergency fund". In another segment, she adds that if ever a blood test would be taken of NRN, there would be no haemoglobin... only Infosys.... Infosys....

But to me, the pinnacle was an anecdote from Vallabh Bansali of Enam, the Lead Manager of the Infosys ADR in the 90s. During the roadshow in the US, Mr. Murthy does not attend the dinner meeting one night. Vallabh is told that he cannot make it. It is only several days later that the truth is known. Mr. Murthy was suffering from a bad tooth and in pain. But he did not want to search for a dentist in the US, go through the procedure and impact the roadshow. Therefore NRN does the right thing in the way only he can.... he spends the evening in his room.... to pull out the painful molar.... with his own hands. The roadshow is a success. 

Mr. Murthy - Dreamer, Leader, Visionary, Strategist, Master Tactician, Mentor, Human Being, and much much more - Thank You.


Kavita Narasimhan said...

one of your best written blogs, Arun. Love the spirit and content.

Manju said...

A fitting farewell to a Great Leader.