Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Inspirational - Narayana Murthy




    "I believe that we have all at some time eaten the fruit from trees
    that we did not plant. In the fullness of time, when it is our turn to
    give, it behooves us in turn to plant gardens that we may never eat
    the fruit of, which will largely benefit generations to come......:"
    N R Narayana Murthy, chief mentor and chairman of the board, Infosys
    Technologies, delivered a pre-commencement lecture at the New York
    University ( Stern School of Business) on May 9. It is a scintillating
    speech, Murthy speaks about the lessons he learnt from his life and
    career. We present it for our readers:
    Dean Cooley, faculty, staff, distinguished guests, and, most
    importantly, the graduating class of 2007, it is a great privilege to
    speak at your commencement ceremonies.
    I thank Dean Cooley and Prof Marti Subrahmanyam for their kind
    invitation. I am exhilarated to be part of such a joyous occasion.
    Congratulations to you, the class of 2007, on completing an important
    milestone in your life journey.
    After some thought, I have decided to share with you some of my life
    lessons. I learned these lessons in the context of my early career
    struggles, a life lived under the influence of sometimes unplanned
    events which were the crucibles that tempered my character and
    reshaped my future.
    I would like first to share some of these key life events with you, in
    the hope that these may help you understand my struggles and how
    chance events and unplanned encounters with influential persons shaped
    my life and career.
    Later, I will share the deeper life lessons that I have learned. My
    sincere hope is that this sharing will help you see your own trials
    and tribulations for the hidden blessings they can be.
    The first event occurred when I was a graduate student in Control
    Theory at IIT, Kanpur , in India . At breakfast on a bright Sunday
    morning in 1968, I had a chance encounter with a famous computer
    scientist on sabbatical from a well-known US university.
    He was discussing exciting new developments in the field of computer
    science with a large group of students and how such developments would
    alter our future. He was articulate, passionate and quite convincing.
    I was hooked. I went straight from breakfast to the library, read four
    or five papers he had suggested, and left the library determined to
    study computer science.
    Friends, when I look back today at that pivotal meeting, I marvel at
    how one role model can alter for the better the future of a young
    student. This experience taught me that valuable advice can sometimes
    come from an unexpected source, and chance events can sometimes open
    new doors.
    The next event that left an indelible mark on me occurred in 1974. The
    location: Nis , a border town between former Yugoslavia , now Serbia ,
    and Bulgaria . I was hitchhiking from Paris back to Mysore, India, my
    home town. By the time a kind driver dropped me at Nis railway station
    at 9 p.m. on a Saturday night, the restaurant was closed. So was the
    bank the next morning, and I could not eat because I had no local
    money. I slept on the railway platform until 8.30 pm in the night when
    the Sofia Express pulled in.
    The only passengers in my compartment were a girl and a boy. I struck
    a conversation in French with the young girl. She talked about the
    travails of living in an iron curtain country, until we were roughly
    interrupted by some policemen who, I later gathered, were summoned by
    the young man who thought we were criticising the communist government
    of Bulgaria .
    The girl was led away; my backpack and sleeping bag were confiscated.
    I was dragged along the platform into a small 8x8 foot room with a
    cold stone floor and a hole in one corner by way of toilet facilities.
    I was held in that bitterly cold room without food or water for over
    72 hours.
    I had lost all hope of ever seeing the outside world again, when the
    door opened. I was again dragged out unceremoniously, locked up in the
    guard's compartment on a departing freight train and told that I would
    be released 20 hours later upon reaching Istanbul . The guard's final
    words still ring in my ears -- "You are from a friendly country
    called India and that is why we are letting you go!"
    The journey to Istanbul was lonely, and I was starving. This long,
    lonely, cold journey forced me to deeply rethink my convictions about
    Communism. Early on a dark Thursday morning, after being hungry for
    108 hours, I was purged of any last vestiges of affinity for the Left.
    I concluded that entrepreneurship, resulting in large-scale job
    creation, was the only viable mechanism for eradicating poverty in
    Deep in my heart, I always thank the Bulgarian guards for transforming
    me from a confused Leftist into a determined, compassionate
    capitalist! Inevitably, this sequence of events led to the eventual
    founding of Infosys in 1981. While these first two events were rather
    fortuitous, the next two, both concerning the Infosys journey, were
    more planned and profoundly influenced my career trajectory.
    On a chilly Saturday morning in winter 1990, five of the seven
    founders of Infosys met in our small office in a leafy Bangalore
    suburb. The decision at hand was the possible sale of Infosys for the
    enticing sum of $1 million. After nine years of toil in the then
    business-unfriendly India , we were quite happy at the prospect of
    seeing at least some money.
    I let my younger colleagues talk about their future plans. Discussions
    about the travails of our journey thus far and our future challenges
    went on for about four hours. I had not yet spoken a word.
    Finally, it was my turn. I spoke about our journey from a small Mumbai
    apartment in 1981 that had been beset with many challenges, but also
    of how I believed we were at the darkest hour before the dawn. I then
    took an audacious step. If they were all bent upon selling the
    company, I said, I would buy out all my colleagues, though I did not
    have a cent in my pocket.
    There was a stunned silence in the room. My colleagues wondered aloud
    about my foolhardiness. But I remained silent. However, after an hour
    of my arguments, my colleagues changed their minds to my way of
    thinking. I urged them that if we wanted to create a great company, we
    should be optimistic and confident. They have more than lived up to
    their promise of that day.
    In the seventeen years since that day, Infosys has grown to revenues
    in excess of $3.0 billion, a net income of more than $800 million and
    a market capitalisation of more than $28 billion, 28,000 times richer
    than the offer of $1 million on that day.
    In the process, Infosys has created more than 70,000 well-paying jobs,
    2,000-plus dollar-millionaires and 20,000-plus rupee millionaires.
    A final story: On a hot summer morning in 1995, a Fortune-10
    corporation had sequestered all their Indian software vendors,
    including Infosys, in different rooms at the Taj Residency hotel in
    Bangalore so that the vendors could not communicate with one another.
    This customer's propensity for tough negotiations was well-known. Our
    team was very nervous.
    First of all, with revenues of only around $5 million, we were minnows
    compared to the customer.
    Second, this customer contributed fully 25% of our revenues. The loss
    of this business would potentially devastate our recently-listed
    Third, the customer's negotiation style was very aggressive. The
    customer team would go from room to room, get the best terms out of
    each vendor and then pit one vendor against the other. This went on
    for several rounds. Our various arguments why a fair price -- one
    that allowed us to invest in good people, R&D, infrastructure,
    technology and training -- was actually in their interest failed to
    cut any ice with the customer.
    By 5 p.m. on the last day, we had to make a decision right on the spot
    whether to accept the customer's terms or to walk out.
    All eyes were on me as I mulled over the decision. I closed my eyes,
    and reflected upon our journey until then. Through many a tough call,
    we had always thought about the long-term interests of Infosys. I
    communicated clearly to the customer team that we could not accept
    their terms, since it could well lead us to letting them down later.
    But I promised a smooth, professional transition to a vendor of
    customer's choice.
    This was a turning point for Infosys.
    Subsequently, we created a Risk Mitigation Council which ensured that
    we would never again depend too much on any one client, technology,
    country, application area or key employee. The crisis was a blessing
    in disguise. Today, Infosys has a sound de-risking strategy that has
    stabilised its revenues and profits.
    I want to share with you, next, the life lessons these events have
    taught me.
    1. I will begin with the importance of learning from experience. It is
    less important, I believe, where you start. It is more important how
    and what you learn. If the quality of the learning is high, the
    development gradient is steep, and, given time, you can find yourself
    in a previously unattainable place. I believe the Infosys story is
    living proof of this.
    Learning from experience, however, can be complicated. It can be much
    more difficult to learn from success than from failure. If we fail, we
    think carefully about the precise cause. Success can indiscriminately
    reinforce all our prior actions.
    2. A second theme concerns the power of chance events. As I think
    across a wide variety of settings in my life, I am struck by the
    incredible role played by the interplay of chance events with
    intentional choices. While the turning points themselves are indeed
    often fortuitous, how we respond to them is anything but so. It is
    this very quality of how we respond systematically to chance events
    that is crucial.
    3. Of course, the mindset one works with is also quite critical. As
    recent work by the psychologist, Carol Dweck, has shown, it matters
    greatly whether one believes in ability as inherent or that it can be
    developed. Put simply, the former view, a fixed mindset, creates a
    tendency to avoid challenges, to ignore useful negative feedback and
    leads such people to plateau early and not achieve their full
    The latter view, a growth mindset, leads to a tendency to embrace
    challenges, to learn from criticism and such people reach ever higher
    levels of achievement (Krakovsky, 2007: page 48).
    4. The fourth theme is a cornerstone of the Indian spiritual
    tradition: self-knowledge. Indeed, the highest form of knowledge, it
    is said, is self-knowledge. I believe this greater awareness and
    knowledge of oneself is what ultimately helps develop a more grounded
    belief in oneself, courage, determination, and, above all, humility,
    all qualities which enable one to wear one's success with dignity and
    Based on my life experiences, I can assert that it is this belief in
    learning from experience, a growth mindset, the power of chance
    events, and self-reflection that have helped me grow to the present.
    Back in the 1960s, the odds of my being in front of you today would
    have been zero. Yet here I stand before you! With every successive
    step, the odds kept changing in my favour, and it is these life
    lessons that made all the difference.
    My young friends, I would like to end with some words of advice. Do
    you believe that your future is pre-ordained, and is already set? Or,
    do you believe that your future is yet to be written and that it will
    depend upon the sometimes fortuitous events?
    Do you believe that these events can provide turning points to which
    you will respond with your energy and enthusiasm? Do you believe that
    you will learn from these events and that you will reflect on your
    setbacks? Do you believe that you will examine your successes with
    even greater care?
    I hope you believe that the future will be shaped by several turning
    points with great learning opportunities. In fact, this is the path I
    have walked to much advantage.
    A final word: When, one day, you have made your mark on the world,
    remember that, in the ultimate analysis, we are all mere temporary
    custodians of the wealth we generate, whether it be financial,
    intellectual, or emotional. The best use of all your wealth is to
    share it with those less fortunate.
    I believe that we have all at some time eaten the fruit from trees
    that we did splant. In the fullness of time, when it is our turn to
    give, it behooves us in turn to plant gardens that we may never eat
    the fruit of, which will largely benefit generations to come. I
    believe this is our sacred responsibility, one that I hope you will
    shoulder in time.
    Thank you for your patience. Go forth and embrace your future with
    open arms, and pursue enthusiastically your own life journey of

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