In Homer’s Iliad, the Trojan hero Hector faces-off against the unbeatable Achilles. Accepting that the Gods have forsaken him, Hector utters his famous line of determination: “Let me not die ingloriously or without struggle, but let me first do some small thing that shall be spoken of among men hereafter.” Roughly 2,000 years later, classically-educated people are still talking about Hector and his struggle to do something noteworthy.
India has a few Hector-like individuals who loom large as IT pioneers, visionary trailblazers who marked the path for thousands to follow. These individuals faced fearsome odds and overcame them in such way as to irrevocably shape our world. As IT professionals, we should “speak of them” and their accomplishments. After all, IT is what puts bread and butter on our tables, and IT wouldn’t be what it is in India without them.
Here are two of India’s IT pioneers, Founding Fathers that we should all know and appreciate:
Narayana Murthy — Father of the Indian IT sector
Narayana Murthy was born into a large middle-class family in Sidlaghatta, Karnataka State. His father was a teacher who expected his son to become a civil servant. But young Narayana had other plans. He cracked the intimidating Indian Institute of Technology’s entrance exam with a high rank, but due to insufficient funds he instead attended the National Institute of Engineering and graduated with a degree in electrical engineering.
Murthy was a brilliant student — some called him a phenomenon — and a man of great determination. After graduation he worked on India’s first time-sharing computer system and later started his own company, Softronics, which unfortunately failed.
Murthy is the embodiment of the maxim that “success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Learning from his failures, Murthy, in partnership with six other professionals, pursued their shared dream and in 1981 founded Infosys, a multinational software consulting company.
Infosys is India’s second largest IT services organization and currently employs more than 180,000 IT pros worldwide. Infosys was incorporated with a capital of ₹ 10,000 (approximately $250 U.S.). Today Infosys is India’s sixth-largest publicly traded company with a market capitalization of ₹ 263,725 crores ($42.51 billion U.S.).
At Infosys, Murthy designed and articulated the Global Delivery Model which is deemed to be the foundation that underlies the gigantic success of IT services outsourcing in India. He served the company as its CEO for 21 years until 2002, when he finally became Chairman of the Board, and then upon his retirement in 2011, Chairman Emeritus.
Often called the “Outsourcer” (although the “Outsorceror” might be slightly more indicative of his near-magical business touch) Murthy proved that India could compete globally with western software companies. He and his cofounders sparked the outsourcing revolution that transformed India’s economy and ushered it firmly onto the world stage.
Following are just a few of Murthy’s noteworthy laurels:
- 2005 rated by The Economist among the 10 most admired global business leader
- 2012, Fortune magazine ranked him 10th among the 12 greatest entrepreneurs of our time
- Infosys was the first Indian company to be listed on NASDAQ
- 2015, Financial Times ranked him 10h in the list of “Business Pioneers in Technology”
- Ranked 13th among CNBC’s 25 global business leaders who have made the maximum impact in society during the last 25 years
- Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur of the Year 2015
Murthy has also been honored by various governments. He has received France’s Legion d’honneur, India’s Padma Vibhushan, and Britain’s Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE).
Murthy is a past Chairman of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmadabad, and as a board member has helped direct prominent educational institutions like Cornell University, Wharton School and the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. He has also served as a member of the HSBC board and the Unilever board. Murthy currently serves on the boards of the Ford Foundation, United Nations Foundation, Rhodes Trust and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.
A lesser known fact, but one that reflects his genial conduct, is his initiation of keeping employees of his company under the asset column of the balance sheet. That’s a trait that not only makes us admire his business ethics, but leaves a lasting impression about his character.
Shiv Nadar — Founder and Chairman of HCL Technologies and the Shiv Nadar Foundation
Nadar hails from Moolaipozhi Village, Trichendur, Tutocorin District, Tamil Nadu. He went to The American College, Madurai, for graduation and later completed his degree in electrical and electronics engineering from PSG College of Technology.
Nadar began his professional career in 1967 at Walchand Group’s Cooper Engineering in Pune. In 1976, during a lunch-break, Nadar and five other engineers were discussing their well-paying yet unfulfilling jobs. Nadar took a stand for their ambitions, and thus the journey of Hindustan Computers Limited (HCL) began.
Funded with an initial investment of ₹ 187,000 ($2,815 U.S.), HCL soon grew into a global IT services conglomerate. Initially, the growth was steady, but when IBM left the country due to some policies by the Industrial Minister, HCL’s fame and profits rose unexpectedly. Nadar and his friends seized the opportunity to fill the vacuum left by IBM’s absence.
In 1995, HCL focus shifted from IT Hardware to IT services. The company got its new name, HCL Technologies, in 1996, and by 1998 Nadar had merged his business into five companies: HCL Technologies, HCL Infosystems, HCL Comnet, HCL Perot and NIIT. HCL currently has a market capitalization of $22.1 billion (U.S.) and employs more than 106,000 people worldwide.
Nadar has been nicknamed “Magus” (Old Persian for “wizard”) by his friends in recognition of his problem-solving skills and business acumen. He has also been recognized with numerous awards including:
- In 1998 the Indian Government conferred Padma Bhushan Award for his contribution to the IT industry and dedication to do public good.
- 2009 Forbes magazine featured him in its list of 48 Heroes of Philanthropy in the Asia Pacific region.
- U.K. Trade & Investment India’s 2009 Businessperson of the Year, as a token of acknowledgement of HCL’s pioneering investment in the UK.
- CNBC’s 2009 Asia Business Leader Award for Corporate Social Responsibility,
Nadar has also been named the recipient of Asia Viewers’ Choice Award, and India Business Leader of the Year.
Nadar believes strongly in the transformative potential of education and that India must reap its demographic dividend. To further this belief, in 1994 he established the Shiv Nadar Foundation (SNF), one of the largest philanthropic institutions in India, whose focus is on creating iconic institutions of excellence in learning across the educational spectrum. Nadar and SHF believe that transformational education is the most powerful tool for socio-economic transformation and for creating global leaders.
For more than 18 years SNF’s mission has been to “promote inclusive education, make higher education more effective and quality-oriented, catering to the specific needs of the job market, (and) enhance the focus on research and contribute to areas of global and national relevance.” SNF believes in making a “force multiplier” impact on millions of lives by focusing on creating leaders in every field from the most underprivileged sections of Indian society.
SNF also has been a regular supporter of social causes and currently operates two residential schools (VidyaGyan) in Bulandshahr and Sitapur, which provide free education to toppers from under privileged backgrounds. VidyaGyan brings rural Indian students, who are potential high achievers, particularly ones lacking exposure to a competitive environment, like their urban counterparts. VidyaGyan’s mission is to “provide the opportunities of a world-class leadership academy to the economically backward students of rural India and transform their lives using high quality school education.”
These are just two of India’s IT Giants, to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude and whom we can never thank enough. Words cannot adequately convey the magnitude of their impact on the lives of hundreds of millions of Indians and on the world.