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
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
"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,
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.