Ten thousand rupees, oodles of energy and a passion for work were the seed capital for NR Narayana Murthy, founder and chairman of Infosys---India's biggest IT success. Murthy, who turns 65 on Saturday, will leave behind the company that employs around 125,000 people and has annual revenues of around $6 billion. In a free wheeling chat with HT Murthy, who will stay on as chairman emeritus of the software giant, says corruption needs to reduce in the country to sustain India's growth. Excerpts:
Q: We are sitting half a mile away from the Ramlila grounds the hotbed of protests against corruption. What is your opinion on the "India against corruption" as a movement?
Ans: Well, this is the first time when we have hope and confidence that we can indeed solve the problem of poverty. We have grown pretty well over the last eight- ten years and therefore everyone of us which includes the government, opposition parties, corporate leaders, civil society, academia should come together and see how we can make this growth sustainable. And one of the important aspects of make this growth sustainable is to ensure that we reduce corruption. I don't think there is any difference of opinion on the need to reduce corruption. Our prime minister has said this and Anna Hazare has said the same thing and everybody has said the same thing. So I think we are all on the same stage on this. Therefore it is a good idea for all of us to sit together and arrive at a method of reducing corruption.
Q: There are two drafts for the lokpal bill, one by Anna Hazare and the other by government. Which one do you support?
Ans: I think given the fact that we have extraordinary person as a prime minister and Mr Anna Hazare is another extraordinary person I do believe that it would be possible for these two extraordinary people to come to a conclusion that will enhance the enthusiasm and optimism of the country in solving the form of poverty so I am quite optimistic.
Q: What is your opinion on the youth in the way they are agitating….
Ans: Well, I am a great admirer of youth, they are flexible in their ideas and have a better idea of the world than me who is much older but at the same time I think the dynamism of youth has to be tempered by the wisdom of the age and the wisdom of older people. This is where I believe that all of us need to come together and come out with a solution so that we can raise the confidence and hope of the youth in the future of the country.
Q: There is lots of talk about investor mood and policy paralysis in the government. Legislations have been stalled and tainted companies may not be the best to engage in an emerging India. Do you think investor mood and FDI climate may be affected by the current atmosphere of parliament and street protests?
Ans: I don't think so because I am confident that solution will be arrived at very quickly which satisfies all the people and India will be back as the top destination for foreign direct investment.
Q: Lets turn our attention to IT. What do you feel about the health of Indian IT industry and what could be the outlook in the coming years?
Ans: I think the health of IT industry is pretty sound. Indian IT industry was valued at $60 billion in the last fiscal and it grew by around 17%, which is not bad. And look at the number of jobs being created for the youth and also the quality of these jobs (the average salary, for instance). I think we have done a pretty good job, but that is not to say there is no scope for improvement but whatever we have achieved is something we all should be very happy about.
As far as the outlook is concerned I feel that as long as we are focussed on customers and become more relevant to customers and as long as we bring in innovations and add more business value to customers I believe that we will continue with the success of Indian software industry.
Q: What about concerns about recovery at the global level? It seems Europan and American debt is the story…
Ans: We know that there is considerable anxiety. But my personal feeling is that this too will pass and the developed world will be back on its feet in a little bit of time.
Q: Let's talk about corporate governance. Are you satisfied with the levels of corporate governance in India?
Ans: I personally feel India has made significant progress ever since the first report on corporate governance by the Rahul Bajaj committee that was introduced by CII. Therefore I am quite positive about the desire of the Indian corporations to make significant advancements to corporate governance. We have made considerable progress over the last ten years.
Q: I am reminded about Warren Buffet saying in New York that wealth creators must pay higher taxes and there should be no extraordinary exemption. What are your thoughts?
Ans: I agree with Warren Buffet and I have always been saying this for the past many years that rich ones among us will definitely have to pay higher taxes. There should be no tax exemptions for companies that are in export business. And we have to make sure that we contribute effectively to serve the problem of poverty.
My wife and me have been taking part in philanthropy for quite some time now. However, I am again talking about Philanthropy. So I feel philanthropy should be about making a difference to the lives of people and not to be talked about. Therefore I don't talk about philanthropy.
Q: Infosys has been sitting on piles of cash. Do you think the company has missed out its big acquisition?
Ans: We have a very good acquisition group and they have looked at a number of candidates and we have a very well laid out acquisition strategy. We have not found a candidate that fits us but the day we find that is attractive and is accretive to our investors definitely the group will recommend and the executive management will take a decision.
Q: Will you take up a role in the public life, if offered?
Ans I am already involved in several areas. I am the chairman of the Public Health Foundation of India, I am helping the entrepreneurs of Gujarat, I am advisor to the West Bengal government on IT. I have participated in a committee to create jobs to the youth of J&K. I am already a little bit to the best of my abilities. Certainly as and when there is any request and if I am competent enough to add value I will certainly look at it.