There’s no denying that NR Narayana Murthy has been the face of India’s early IT revolution. Building one of India’s most powerful companies with just 6 other engineers and $250 in 1981, Infosys soon held its IPO in 1993, and went on to make history.
It’s been over forty years since Murthy’s plucky startup was founded – and in that time, the 75-year-old billionaire has seen the entire landscape of international and national business evolve, grow, and diversify into previously unheard-of sectors.
The tech founder recently condensed much of this experience into Startup Compass – a new book written by IIM alumni Ujwal Kalra and Shobhit Shubhankar, whose foreword was written by Murthy himself.
In the foreword, Murthy shares 9 key lessons for today’s entrepreneurs, all taken from his own challenges and struggles through forty years of being a businessman:
Murthy said that while most of his founder-colleagues did not agree on all decisions, many of them shared the same values, which allowed them to collectively work for Infosys’ good.
“Values form the backbone of an entrepreneur’s determination. The first and the most important tenet of our value system was putting the interest of the company ahead of our personal interest in every decision the founding team took.”
According to Murthy, failures are simply part of any entrepreneur’s journey, and need to be quickly analyzed and treated as an opportunity to learn.
“I had learnt that the absence of the market was what led to that: failure. I decided to focus on export market in my next venture,” he wrote, concerning his troubles with Softronics. “This is the time for the entrepreneur to tone down his passion for the idea, keep emotions aside and quickly bring the venture to a decent closure. Softronics had no domestic market, and there was no way I could recover from it quickly. So, I closed it in nine months.”
Despite his background in tech and high-level engineering, Murthy keeps himself humble and understands that much of work and life are left to chance.
“There were so many friends and classmates who were much smarter than I was,” he admits. “Their teams had better credentials than we had. They had better ideas than we had. But God chose us to smile on. There were many critical situations and deals when it could have gone either way. Somehow, God helped us take the right decision in those situations.”
Another case of using humility to your advantage, Murthy recommends the Rahul Bajaj maxim that ‘market competition is the best management school.’
“Market competition taught us how to attract and retain good customers and employees and how to enhance the trust of our investors,” explained Murthy. “In every area of our operation, we benchmarked ourselves with the best practices in the world, and created some ‘next’ practices.”
One of Murthy’s biggest claims to fame is the staunch, disciplined approach to life and work he adopted – one that resonates long after he left the public eye, and in his words, makes a leader trustworthy to others.
“I travel by economy even today on domestic flights. I would be in the office at 6.20 a.m. every morning till I retired in 2011. That sent an indelible message to youngsters about reaching office on time,” Murthy shared. Interestingly, he also believes that a truly great leader stands largely alone.
“No company can be run by committees,” he believes. “We learnt that a leader has to lead by example in values; must work the hardest; must make the biggest sacrifices; must welcome ideas and opinions from competent and expert colleagues before taking any decision; must consider those ideas in his decision, and the buck must stop at his table for every major decision.”
While controversial, Murthy understood over time that maintaining confidence amongst his original team of founders was nearly impossible. To that end, he was willing to enforce a strict policy that stopped all internal work discussions at the doorstep of their offices.
“I also decided that none of us would discuss with our spouses whatever differences of opinion we have had amongst ourselves on an issue in the office. I followed it strictly. The reason was very simple. Our spouses may look at the issue in isolation, and it had the potential to destroy the camaraderie amongst them.”
Startup Compass is published by HarperCollins, and available for sale today.