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Interview with NarayanaMurthy's kids


NarayanaMurthy's Family

N R Narayana Murthy is the proud father of an entrepreneur in the making and passionate research student. When he stepped down as executive chairman of Infosys, Akshata Murty (26) and Rohan Murty (22) flew down from the US to be part of the occasion. R Raghavendra and Srikala Bhashyam caught up with Murthy Juniors to understand how the making of Infosys and NRN have shaped their lives.



Akshata: We never felt we were celebrity kids. Our father was travelling a lot and we didn't really know what Infosys was about. I left India when I was 18 to do my undergraduate course. I think it was in 1999 that Infosys was listed on Nasdaq and got an international flair to it. People started recognising me. That was a very new thing, never ever what I thought life would be. Over the years, it has definitely become different. Very different from my friends' lives. That is good and bad and easy and tough.

Rohan: For me it was very different. I went to Bishop Cottons here. For the first few years, I took a bus to school. The next few years, I went by van and later by autorickshaw. Suddenly, in the 9th or 10th standard, my parents started insisting that I need to go by car. I understood why because newspapers would write that this much money was made and so on. It restricted my freedom. Some teachers began to treat me differently. I didn't quite like that. It's different perhaps if you had grown up with it. For me, it was quite at a late stage. Over the years, it (press coverage) increased and I felt I need to go like Akshata has.

Were you compelled to study in the US?

Akshata: I didn't want to do engineering and I was really passionate about history and arts. There are some great schools in India but also some great schools in the US. I figured it would be a good thing to go. Nobody forced anybody. It obviously had worked for me and so I was sure it would work for Rohan too.

My decision to go abroad was because of Akshata (influence). I was very short sighted. I thought I would be away from home, fast internet, nobody can tell me not to play computer games. I was very keen on computers. I started programming when I was in the 4th standard. I had a group of friends in school who were real hackers. We were all very passionate about computer science. I was clear in school itself that I wanted to do PhD. So I thought it was a good option to go abroad.

Anything you missed while growing up?

When we were really young, my parents wouldn't let us celebrate our birthday because they believed that on our birthday, you have to donate money to the less privileged. But when Infosys was small, we used to celebrate Infosys' birthday with cakes. And we always wanted to be the ones to cut the Infosys cake. We never celebrated our birthday except on my 18th birthday because I was leaving for the US. It was more of a goodbye party.

I never celebrated my birthday.

But we never felt our parents ignored us even though they were so busy. Sudha aunty (Kris Gopalakrishnan's wife) was such a good friend and we (Infosys) were such a close community. We were a family and we really loved that. Because of the expansion, it's hard to have that same intimate feeling. I do miss some things like buying cutlery, stationery for Infosys.


My mother was largely responsible for the first half of my life because my dad was always travelling. Earlier, I was not a very academically- strong student. More than my parents, my friends played a big role. I had friends who were all toppers. It was peer pressure and suddenly you also begin to study well. My parents never pressured me to study.
I joined BASE after my 10th standard because all my friends joined. After two months I realised it was not what I wanted to do.
I visited IIT Kanpur because my friend was studying there but somehow I felt it was not for me. I told my dad that I don't want to do (IIT). He said OK.

I am so glad he did it. In India, you have to work so hard and you miss out on your childhood and I am glad that we didn't have to run that train.

What I found was people were doing it because their parents were telling them to do it though they were good at many other things.

People like us are fortunate that we weren't under pressure to do things. In my family, including my aunts and uncles, I am the only non-science graduate. Rohan: When I picked computer science, I was fascinated. There is no question of asking my parents what I should do. It is more of telling them this is what I am doing. Of course, my dad has to be involved if I require a new computer. Even while doing PhD, it was I who decided.

Akshata: Rohan
is more independent than I am. I was a normal kid, asking parents what to do. Because of the circumstances (parents being extremely busy), Rohan had to become more independent.
I can't make a serious decision in my life without my parents signing off.


Akshata: I can never remember a time when I felt like I could do whatever I wanted with money. We always had what we needed. Books, anything to do with school, we had it. I didn't eat at Indian restaurants in the US initially because it was expensive. I somehow felt if I ate out, Rohan's coming would be affected.
Once when I was in the 2nd standard, I wanted to be part of a choir, and we had to buy an outfit to be part of it. I came home and told my mother about the dress and she said OK. But I knew that it was not 100% OK. I decided that there was no need to be in the choir.

Rohan: It was nothing like that for me. I never felt that I should economise for anybody. The only time I wanted money was to buy candy in school. We have never got pocket money, even till date. Those days, my mother gave me Rs 5 and made sure I was accountable for everything I did with it. So I have never once felt that we were swimming in money.


Does the size of Infosys ever hit you?

We never felt like it's our own company. But most of the time, our parents spent so much time, I definitely view it as a sibling. I might not know the exact details of how many people Infosys hires. To me all those things make no difference.

Do you talk of Infosys at home?

Akshata and Rohan: Noooo
... I mean, we talk of specific occasions in Infosys like when all the employees got watches. Not even once have we spoken about things like market capitalisation of the company falling or rising.

What opinion do you have each time you read about Infosys?

I have never had an opinion on it, whether it's the first time or the 'n'th time... I have never felt it's too little or too much. The only time I feel a pinch is when my name appears somewhere and I don't want that.

I think Rohan faces more of the brunt on that (Infosys' publicity). There have been both good and bad things in the press. But there have been many times when I have been upset about what people have said about Rohan and wanted to write back. I just wish that people understand who we are (as independent individuals), before they look at us as our parents' children.

Rohan: The other day, I visited my school (Bishop Cottons). Whenever I come home, I visit my school. I am very attached to it because I was there for 14 years. Usually I go and teach a class on interesting research problems in computer science. I have received so many accolades in schools and won several awards. When I walked into the class where my teacher was teaching, she introduced me by saying, "Oh, you obviously know who his father is...'' I told her that you have taught me here for 14 years and it is extremely unfortunate that the way you choose to remember me was like this. There are so many things that she could have said, which I have achieved in school on my own. But it was very unfortunate that she chose to introduce me to my juniors in that way.

There is so much hype around an individual that its hard unless Rohan and I do something more breathtaking than my dad. Only then will this stop. We have understood that this is a fact of life. It's much harder for him (Rohan) because he is also in the same field. I just do my own thing. This is one reason why I like to live in the US.

There are many traditional business houses in India where you inherit everything and the son steps in, etc. Obviously that's not the case here. It's not what I want to do. On the other hand, it is not something that I can't completely disconnect from. And this is the grey area for me and I don't know which way to go. It is very frustrating because when you are between 15 and 21 years old, most people want to achieve things on their own. In my case, I always feel that whatever I do should be independent of my parents.

INTEREST IN POLITICS What do you think this country needs most?

I have been thinking a lot in the last month since I have been in India. I finished my MBA and travelled to China, Japan and Hong Kong and then came for Infosys' 25th year celebration. I have been reading and thinking a lot about why can't India be a China, a Japan or a United States? The one word to describe the reason for this is discipline. We don't have discipline in anything we do. It's as simple as not standing in line when you are getting into an airplane or a bus. It's as complicated as evading your taxes. We really need to look at ourselves as a community and stop looking at ourselves as individuals. There are two things that I am really struggling with. One is, do I want to get into politics? People like us have seen what's out in the West and because of our upbringing in India, we are fortunate to get the best of both worlds.
Someone like me who comes from a privileged background can institute some sort of discipline into the system. I am not looking at politics as a career but as an effective means to institute policy change for a wide range of matters.
I really commend what my mother does. But her work is not about policies. She doesn't have that kind of power. Sometimes I think whether it makes sense to have some sort of revolution, where you have people who think differently. They must not look at it as a way to substitute their own pockets. I dream of that sometimes. Having read Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru and My Experiments with Truth by Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturba's life, I wonder where such phenomenal leaders are today. I just saw that movie Rang de Basanti, which talks about corruption that exists in our society. I feel very strongly about politics.
There is also this other side of me that is fascinated by entrepreneurship, which is why I went to Stanford. Although it could be nothing in the realm of technology, I do dream of starting my own company. Whatever I do, I know for a fact that it will involve India.

The short answer is yes because he thinks differently and he is what we need from a thought perspective. But he can't implement it. It's not because some politician would not let him but because the system will not let him do it.
That's why I feel that politics is not for him because he is so action oriented. One can then ask why I think of politics. I feel I'm younger and we need young people to come up and do something.

I am not interested in any of those things. I have 4-5 years left in my PhD. One of my interests is higher education in India. My perspective is limited to computer science. We almost never see a top quality research paper coming from India. Also, going into science is still not considered a good career option. So I would perhaps be interested in improving the research scenario in India, especially research in computer science. Of course, research should not be restricted to this subject. It should span all domains. Periodically, I revaluate my career. Right now I want to study.

UNLIKELY TO JOIN INFOSYS Have you ever felt like joining Infosys?

There have been times when Infosys has come to our university to recruit and I have helped them by giving my suggestions about the recruiting pattern at business schools. But it has never even been a thought for me to join Infosys.

No, not me. I have never thought of it either.

FATHER'S RETIREMENT What were your first impressions of your dad retiring?

Well, it's a rule that you have to retire when you are 60. So, even if he said no, he had to retire as per rules. I'm least bothered that he is retiring. Even if he sits at home for the next 20 plus years, it is still fine because he has done enough. So it's time for me to stop worrying about him and think about what I need to be doing. Dad will find something to do.
I was discussing this with Mohan uncle (Mohandas Pai, HR-head of Infosys) the other day that my father has lived the last 20 plus years of his life on planes. He is almost never been on land. He comes to Boston on work and I meet him for lunch and he takes the evening flight back. He is always like this. There is a joke that there is perhaps an airplane seat in Infosys because that is the only seat where he can sleep on.
I'm told his calendar is booked out right through 2007-08. So retirement technically means that the few days that he is in Bangalore, he is likely to stay home rather than go to work.
I actually tell my dad that he should do a PhD. I have been talking to him about it for the last two years. He is very interested in getting into computer science. But obviously he cannot do it because of his age. More than that, he likes being in an academic setting where there are students. It is different being a student. I believe that a couple of business schools in the US have offered him teaching assignments. But I still tell him to do a PhD. I even tell my mother to do a PhD.

Akshata: Rohan
wants everyone to do a PhD.

No, that's not true. I know that my mother would thoroughly enjoy it. She was at Harvard two years ago for some seminars and lectures. She stayed in the undergrad doms (dormitory) and she really liked it. She is a great history buff. So I keep telling her to look at a PhD in history.

I have a different take on this. My parents have been through enough. They have left a lasting impression on us.

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