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Murthy steps down as Infy chief

Indications are that Murthy would continue to call the shots at Infosys even after he steps down. Your Take

india Updated: Aug 20, 2006 18:42 IST

Infosys Technologies' chairman NR Narayana Murthy stepped down on Sunday after 25 years at the helm of the firm he co-founded with six other software engineers and built into India's second-largest software company.

The partners started Infosys in 1981 with $250, mainly borrowed from the spouses of the founders. Riding a global outsourcing boom, it has grown into an international company with annual revenues of more than $2 billion and market capitalisation of $21 billion.

Murthy, who reached the company's retirement age of 60 on Sunday, will continue as non-executive chairman and mentor.

"It's not easy to be away from something that you put heart and soul for the last 25 years and for which almost 24 hours a day you lived for in that sense," soft-spoken Murthy said.

The company's success has made Murthy, the fifth of eight children of a schoolteacher, an icon for India's emerging middle class which traditionally shied away from running businesses.

"He was one person who became the symbol of what I would call the most important part of new India," said Kiran Karnik, president of National Association of Software and Service Companies.

"Somebody with only knowledge as his capital and somebody who holds on to values that are middle class is able to do not only well but outstandingly well," he said.

"Till 20 years ago, people assumed that if you are in business you probably inherited a lot of money or you are a crook," Karnik said.

Murthy, who owns 5.9 per cent of Infosys along with his wife and two children, is worth $1.2 billion, according to Forbes' The World's Billionaires report published in March.

Tough climb

For bespectacled Murthy, who has the deliberate drawl and elaborate articulation of a college professor, the journey to the pinnacle of success has been far from smooth.

Unlike many who flew off to the United States after graduating from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, Murthy took a masters in computer sciences and decided to stay in India.

After working with Mumbai-based Patni Computer Systems Ltd for a few years, he teamed up with six colleagues, including Nandan Nilekani, now Infosys's chief executive, to launch the company.

In the early years, the western classical music-loving Murthy anchored the company from its headquarters in Bangalore, while Nilekani joined other co-founders in the United States, programming for clients and doubling as salesman for deals.

Infosys' biggest challenge came in 1995 when Murthy and his team disagreed with tough conditions set by General Electric Co and walked away from the US firm's business when it formed 25 per cent of Infosys' revenue and 8 per cent of profit.

"I am very happy that everybody worked hard and made sure that we replace that business with better business. So that was indeed a very, very difficult time but the team work, commitment and confidence won the day," Murthy said.
Infosys, whose clients include ABN AMRO and Airbus, became the first Indian company to list on Nasdaq in 1999. It has a payroll of 58,000 and ranks just behind Tata Consultancy Services Ltd, India's largest software services exporter.

Married to Sudha, who also has a masters in computer science, the Murthys have two children—daughter Akshata and son Roshan, who are both studying in the United States.

First Published: Aug 20, 2006 09:50 IST