India's best-known entrepreneur N.R. Narayana Murthy stepped down on his 60th birthday yesterday as chairman of software export giant Infosys, which he founded a quarter-century ago.
Murthy, whose company was a pioneer of off-shore software outsourcing, grew the US$20 billion company by market capitalization from an investment of just US$250 -- a loan from his wife.
"Infosys is a shining example of all the good that came out of [market] liberalization," Murthy said last month at the anniversary of the company's founding.
"There are a few good entrepreneurs and for them to succeed they require an incentive. That is the Infosys lesson," he said.
Daunted by red tape and archaic laws in the 1980s, Murthy had considered selling the company, but economic reforms in 1991 allowed Infosys to finally take off and become one of the big success stories of India's technology sector.
The government provided tax holidays, export subsidies and duty-free hardware imports in the initial stages of reforms for software export firms and many state governments today lure these companies with tax concessions.
Bangalore-based Infosys Technologies, India's second-largest software exporter, now has annual revenues of US$2.1 billion and employs 58,000 people in more than two dozen countries.
Murthy, who announced earlier in the year that he would resign from the board the day he turned 60, will keep an eye on his beloved company as non-executive chairman and "chief mentor," but will hand the baton to CEO Nandan Nilekani.
The staunch capitalist was once a socialist who traveled to Europe in the 1970s to learn more about communism, but came away disillusioned.
"I was a strong socialist. By the end of 1970 I got to the conclusion that leftism is just bogus. Socialism in India is meaningless. Creation of jobs requires entrepreneurship," the soft-spoken Murthy said.
Despite becoming a billionaire, Murthy set a model for India's wealthy business class by continuing to live simply and by sharing the NASDAQ-listed company's wealth with employees through stock options.
According to Indian media reports, that list includes not just the company's white-collar workers, but electricians, plumbers and Murthy's own driver, who at one time held close to half a million dollars in options.
"The value systems I incorporated in Infosys were taught to me by my parents," said Murthy, one of eight children of a rural schoolteacher father who earned 175 rupees (US$3.80) a month.
"My father had clear ideas of honesty, decency and work ethics. My mother taught me how to sacrifice [time and money] for others," he said.