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Indian Tech Guru is Called `Compassionate Capitalist'
By Y.P. Rajesh   Reuters
BANGALORE, India — India's most celebrated billionaire queues up in his office cafeteria, behind a uniformed security guard, steel plate in hand. He fetches his own glass of water and eats the same food as his milling workers.

And he preaches capitalism and wealth creation.

N.R. Narayana Murthy, chairman and chief executive officer of Infosys Technologies Ltd, India's stock market darling which became the nation's first firm to list on the U.S.'s Nasdaq exchange last year, loves high tech but not the high life.

"The power of money is the power to give it away," says the 53-year-old engineer, whose software company on Tuesday beat analyst predictions yet again as its net profit soared 117 percent in 1999/2000 (April-March), 11 percentage points above a Reuters poll estimate.

The son of a school teacher from a southern Indian village, Murthy is today a "thought leader" in the country's booming information technology industry, a role model for entrepreneurs and an adviser for New Delhi's bureaucrats.

Infosys began with a seed capital of $230 in 1981, borrowed mainly from the wives of its six founders.

It has seen its stock value multiply 100 times since it went public in 1993 and is now scouring the globe for acquisitions.

Employees number more than 5,000, and the market value of the company's Indian shares alone is close to $15 billion. Revenues have grown 65 percent a year since 1994.

"I am a capitalist in mind but socialist at heart," Murthy told Reuters in an interview in his Bangalore office, where the only sign of indulgence are the hundreds of CDs of western classical music.

"Money has its advantages but I suppose I limit it to books and music," said Murthy, who believes his lower middle class origins make him comfortable with simplicity. He also believes simple lifestyles can help evangelize wealth creation.

Murthy, who was detained for three days by Bulgarian police on suspicion that he was working against the communist government in the 1970s, was spurred by the incident to think afresh about his commitment to socialism.

He reminds some of independence leader Mahatma Gandhi who preached a form of "trusteeship" under which industrialists will create wealth but help society. He believes the simple life is necessary "so that you don't create tensions in society."

D.V. Subbalakshmi, one of the hundreds of young engineers in Infosys who looks up to him, says Murthy at once stands for entrepreneurship and the creation of social good.

"He stands for compassionate capitalism."

Infosys has over the years metamorphosed from being a cut-price programming shop to a high-value company grabbing emerging areas like e-commerce. It counts among its clients Fortune 500 firms such as Boeing Co and Dell

It has on the side set up a foundation which carries out social work like slum development.

Murthy's management style is focused and enthusiastic.

"We have a non-hierarchical organisation...and on Friday, he will come in jeans, like everybody else," said Aditi Madhok, an employee.

Murthy and his friends nearly gave up in 1990 as socialist controls stifled their ambitions to become world class.

"I must be very honest...I don't think we foresaw Infosys would be such a success," Murthy said.

"We were living from month to month and there were times when we had to borrow to pay salaries."

"I was probably the only one who had this unbridled enthusiasm, the confidence that we will somehow make it. I think that's how I told all of my colleagues then that I will buy all of them out. Not that I had any money," Murthy said.

Fortunes reversed in 1991, when India launched a free-market reform programme after a foreign exchange crisis.

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