BT MindRush: How NR Narayana Murthy became a pioneer in the Indian IT sector

Widely hailed as a pioneer in the Indian IT sector, NR Narayana Murthy is currently the chairman emeritus of Bengaluru-headquartered Infosys Technologies, and founder of the venture capital firm Catamaran Ventures. Murthy was born in August 1946, a year before the country attained independence, in the gold mining district of Kolar in Karnataka state. He graduated in electrical engineering from the University of Mysore in 1967, followed by a master’s degree in technology from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur.

After considering offers from Electronics Corp. of India Ltd (ECIL), Hindustan Machine Tools (HMT), Telco and Air India, he decided to join Indian Institute of Management (IIM)-Ahmedabad, which he regards as his best training ground to date. At IIM-Ahmedabad he worked on the country’s maiden time-sharing computer system – which incidentally was the third in the world after Harvard and Stanford – as well as designed and implemented an interpreter for the high-level BASIC programming language for ECIL.

During a stint in France, he helped develop an operating system for cargo handling at Charles de Gaulle Airport. It was during this period that a life-transforming incident happened to a young Murthy. During a trip through the countries of the former Eastern bloc, he was wrongfully arrested in Bulgaria due to the language barrier. The experience was enough to turn him into a “compassionate capitalist” from a “confused leftist”, as it dawned on him that wealth had to be first created before it could be distributed. And that it was the government’s job to create a suitable environment to facilitate entrepreneurship.

Returning to India, Murthy founded Softronics to provide IT-related services in the domestic market. However, he soon shuttered it as the idea couldn’t take off. In 1981, he founded Infosys with six other software professionals. His spouse Sudha Murthy provided the initial capital investment of Rs 10,000 for the venture. That was the time when it could take up to two years to get a computer, with Infosys managing to install its first computer in 1984.

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Infosys’ early days were filled with challenges, with Murthy receiving regular offers to buy them out. He, however, chose to hold his ground. It was the onset of the economic liberalisation in the early 1990s that put Infosys on the growth trajectory. Murthy was suddenly inking deals for a range of services including consulting, systems integration, software development and product engineering with overseas clients.

With new contracts revenues also started growing significantly. In 1999, Infosys became the first Indian company to list on NASDAQ. 

Annual revenues of Infosys in FY22 were more than $16.31 billion, while net income was over $2.96 billion. The company had 1,741 active clients during the period.

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Murthy stepped down as company chairman in 2011. He is a recipient of India’s prestigious civilian awards, Padma Vibhushan and Padma Shri. In 2008, the French government conferred him with the Legion of Honour, the country’s highest award.

Murthy will be delivering a fireside chat on the topic of ‘Leadership and Entrepreneurship in a VUCA World’ at Business Today MindRush event on Friday.

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