India's Chop Shop?

 
 

US Senator Charles Schumer's comments describing Indian IT giant Infosys as a ‘chop shop’ have sparked some controversy in both India and the United States. And his criticism of companies outsourcing American jobs hasn't even found unanimous support in the United States—large numbers of US firms and business interests have come out to say that outsourcing helps American companies to be more competitive globally.

In India, of course, his remarks have been painted as racist and derogatory (especially in light of the US decision to substantially hike visa fees for Indian software techies). But, to me, one small but immediate positive has come from this, and that's been seeing more of Infosys Chairman N. Narayan Murthy in our media.

Predictably, journalists have sought him out to see how he feels about Schumer's comments. In an India in which there’s often so much to berate, Narayan Murthy is a powerful symbol for positive change.

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He founded Infosys in the early 1980s with six friends, and they’ve been game changers inIndian business ever since. Infosys now has nearly 120,000 employees, offices in over 20 countries and clocked in revenues upwards of $4 billion in 2010.

But more than this stupendous success, it’s been the ethos with which the company has been run over the last 30 years that makes Murthy and others in his team such important icons of inspiration for a fast-changing India. 

At the outset, Murthy and the other founders decided that Infosys wouldbreak away from other ‘family-run’ businesses in India by demarcating control and management. None of the founder's children work in the company—a radical departure from most other Indian businesses where the second generation assumes critical positions after an Ivy League education abroad.

They also brought in then alien concepts of transparency, employee ownership and two-way dialogue into HR manuals. Murthy himself continues to live in a two-bedroom flat in Bengaluru (where Infosys is headquartered) despite being one of India's wealthiest men.

In a special interview I saw with him on NDTV last night, he spoke of why heand his wife Sudha felt it was important to display self-restraint. Compassionate, decent capitalism, he said was one which did not alienate the haves from the have nots. He also rejected notions that he enter public life, adding that he’s keen to travel to villages across India to talk to school children about being good citizens after he retires as chairman of the Infosys board next August.

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