Friday, June 7, 2013

Rohan Murthy’s Induction into Infosys - Killing the Indian Aspiration



A popular joke has been doing the rounds across India’s digital circles, harking the return of the 1990s. After all, Sanjay Dutt is in jail, Madhuri Dixit is on the big screen and Murthy is again heading Infosys among other things. However, what is not a joke is the induction of Rohan Murthy, N R Narayana Murthy’s son, as an executive assistant to Mr. Murthy, even if he gets paid only Re.1.
Infosys had a difficult gestation, but it saw through that tide of difficulties in the License Raj. The nascent steps towards India’s economic liberalization two decades ago meant that companies that had talent driving them all of a sudden discover opportunities never seen or heard of before. All of a sudden, merit, and not proximity to the corridors of power, mattered in succeeding in business in India. All of a sudden, it was big business that was eating the humble pie for refusing to acknowledge talent when it needed it the most. In the Indian business scenario, there have been only Goliaths. There would have been no David but for Infosys, who proved more than a thing Infosys proved just what economic reforms could help ordinary Indians achieve. It made all our advantages and disadvantages become irrelevant. Sure Mr. Murthy had problems back then importing computers. Today however, Infosys sells the stuff that runs these computers, making the world sit up and take note of India’s potential. Infosys became a symbol of India’s economic transformation and its ability to absorb anyone and everyone, treating them all at par without any extra efforts. Infosys was, and still perhaps is, the only company that allowed its employees to vent out on an official portal, and started to take cognizance of its employees’ problems. Name one company of Indian origin which has the guts to do so. The answer is an emphatic none. It paid attention to hiking salaries for its employees, and though not ideal, is certainly worth an exploration even in terms of human resource practices, even if it was fuelled by several monetary and manpower factors.
What really had distinguished the company from other Indian companies is one simple but critical factor. There are no big surnames helping the firm any which way. Who would have thought that a company with no big surname amidst its board actually turn into a billion dollar plus enterprise? And yet, it proved people wrong by setting up a firm which has not indulged in corporate fraud, which has a clean image and also appreciated corporate and technical talent. This was evident by the fact that apart from the wives of the original board members, there were hardly any family members in the corporate ladder of Infosys. Heck, we had been excited to see that the head honcho retired, giving over the executive functioning to someone who was not his son, daughter, son-in-law etc. etc. Merit was the company’s foundation, and would continue to remain so.
Or so we thought.
As the company’s fortunes dipped, tough decisions were made. Eventually, the company, bereft of the original set of innovators, had to fall back on NRN to revive the sagging fortunes of the company. The induction of his son, an MBA graduate from the United States, into the company as his executive assistant, has sent rumour mills flying into overdrive. All this was a well managed plan, it is now believed, to keep the Infosys label gripped into the Murthy family’s hands. He was managing the family’s foundation, notably engaged in CSR activities, prior to this ‘assistant’ stint.
The problem with his induction is the fact that all of a sudden, merit has become a casualty to profit making and securing family interests. Infosys stood apart from the crowd because it did not ensconce any family cartels or shareholder cartels. Only the best was supposed to go to the top of the ladder. By bringing in Rohan, NRN has shattered the perceptions about image and revived the stereotypes about Indian business houses – that we are all typical family establishments, too attached to the business to ever give it up. Not learning from Bill Gates or Warren Buffett or companies like Apple and GE, who ensured founding members’ families remained out of the business, we have again demoralized the rise of merit by demonstrating that talent will never really get the opportunity in India, and there is no option for the talented but to chart untested waters abroad, for they will never truly be appreciated in India.
Thanks a lot Mr. Murthy, for shattering millions of Indian aspirations, much like the other business corporations.

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