Narayana Murthy’s May 2007 Address to Stern School Students

 

Hi,

 

Mr N R Narayana Murthy,Chief Mentor and Co Founder of Infosys Technologies, has a plaque  in his office that says ” The Power of Money is the Power to give it away”….in his May 9,2007 pre-commencement address at the New York University to the students at the Stern School of Business he encapsulates how he has evolved to what he is today..Lessons he has learned from his Life and Career….Interesting journey so far…maybe many of us can draw some parallel somewhere…the address is reproduced in verbatim below for your absorbing pleasure  

Cheers,

Gaurav A Parikh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

” 

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  8×8 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 societies.

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 company. 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 Dweckhas 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 potential.

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 grace.

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 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. 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 discovery   “

 

 

 

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