Leadership through Vision, Values, and Fairness

N.R. Narayana Murthy, founder of global software services company Infosys, started his company in the early 1980s with a powerful vision amid the “great entrepreneurial opportunity” presented by the transformational turning points in information technology and globalization. The result: more than four decades of growth, success, and respect as a great business leader.

Murthy recently engaged in a lively virtual conversation with Dean Kaushal Chari in the Great Journeys Inspirational Series, sponsored by the M&I Marshall & Ilsley Center for Business Ethics at UWM’s Lubar School of Business. The series emphasizes the values of business ethics, integrity, and social responsibility.

His vision for Infosys developed in the late 1970s, he said, when three major shifts in technology began to democratize access to commercial computing in the U.S. – the availability of inexpensive super-mini-computers, inexpensive transaction-oriented commercial software applications, and perhaps most importantly, the acceptance by U.S. companies to use these technologies for commercial transactions.

“Demand exploded for applications on these inexpensive hardware and software platforms,” Murthy said. “The U.S. was the leader in embracing globalization on the demand side, and China, India, and Far Eastern countries were the main beneficiaries on the supply side.”

With Murthy at the helm, Infosys became a global leader in innovation in technical, managerial and leadership training, software technology, quality, productivity, customer focus, employee satisfaction, and physical and technological infrastructure. Today, the company posts more than $13.5 billion in annual revenues.

Murthy’s business and leadership acumen has been widely recognized, including being ranked among Fortune magazine’s 12 Greatest Entrepreneurs of Our Time, The Economist’s 10 Most Admired Global Business Leaders, and the Financial Times top 10 Business Pioneers in Technology. He is the first Indian winner of Ernst and Young’s World Entrepreneur of the Year award.

Excellent leaders have many and varied attributes, in Murthy’s opinion. “You have to have the ability to craft and communicate a vision in which every stakeholder of the corporation sees a benefit. You have to connect the 50,000-foot bird’s-eye view of the world with the ground-level view of the world. And you have to continually scan the horizon for risks, structural shifts, and trends in order to identify and find opportunities.”

As a leader, Murthy staunchly believes that one must also adhere to their core values. “Your value system drives your actions,” he shared. “Every action is predicated on where we stand on fairness, transparency, honesty, accountability, courtesy, and decency in deciding issues.”

Murthy singled out fairness, however, as “the most important attribute in a human being.”

“It forces you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes before making a decision, and to use data and facts in deciding a transaction.” He added, “In God we trust – everyone else brings data to the table.”

It also raises confidence in the correctness of the decision, he noted, even in the mind of the person who lost out on the transaction.

Now retired from Infosys, Murthy currently serves on the boards of Ford Foundation, the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University, and the United Nations Foundation.

A recording of his full presentation can be found here.