Infosys leader Murthy gets top award, makes impact in the US

N.R. Narayana Murthy stands with (l-r) USF Provost Ralph Wilcox, USF President Judy Genshaft and Karen Holbrook, Senior Vice President for Global Affairs/ Credit: Aimee Blodgett

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Tampa, Florida – University of South Florida leadership and faculty members, College of Business and Engineering students and the university’s Indian community flocked to a series of events this week that featured time to engage with N.R. Narayana Murthy, the renowned international business leader. 

 Coming to USF to accept its top honors – the President’s Global Leadership Award and the Free Enterprise Award – meant returning to an area Murthy hasn’t seen in 31 years.  “I have changed a lot and Tampa has changed a lot,” he joked. In his case, it’s quite an understatement.

His once fledgling company, Infosys, has grown to earn annual revenues nearing $7 billion and an impressive client list in more than 30 countries and nearly 150,000 employees. Infosys became the first Indian firm to be listed on the Nasdaq Exchange in 1999 and the first to offer stock options to its employees – options that created some of India’s first salaried millionaires. 

 The university made the most of Murthy’s visit.

 His presence provided the opportunity to observe and learn from one of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs over an entire day. Murthy shared his observations about India, sustainability, entrepreneurship and how his field has changed over the years through a series of thoughtful and informative talks.

 At each event, between introductions and Murthy’s own remarks, the story was told of how he founded Infosys with six colleagues and $250 borrowed from his wife and built the company into the billion dollar powerhouse it is today.

 He was particularly happy to share the occasion with two of his first customers who were on hand, Nigel Fenwick, now with Forrester Research, Inc. and James Clark, now retired. Clark was the newly named project manager for a new manufacturing software package when his company was the first in the US to hire Infosys to implement the installation. While CIO with Reebok UK, Fenwick partnered with Infosys to develop a model for software package development in India. 

 In the intimate setting of a breakfast with a small group of students he talked about the founding of Infosys. Later with a larger group of students, welcomed by the leadership of the USF Students of India Association, he spoke about India’s recent economic triumphs in which Infosys has played a leading role and the nation’s problems. He emphasized the importance of education and directed a special message to the Indian students in the audience. He told them they had the responsibility to contribute to society whether they stay in the US or return to India and to remember to behave as model global citizens devoted to sustainability.

 With USF’s faculty and staff he emphasized the importance of embracing innovation.

 “As long as the corporations here use the power of innovation, this country will continue to be the number one country in the world,” he said. “The day this country forgets innovation, then there is a possibility it will lose its status like dew on a sunny morning.”

 Afterwards, he spent time meeting informally with attendees of a previously-scheduled simultaneous event, the annual Executive IT Forum. 

 From there Murthy went to the Free Enterprise Luncheon where he received a standing ovation upon receipt of the first of his awards. Incoming College of Business Dean Moez Limayem made clear why he was chosen for the honor.

 “According to Mr. Murthy, great leaders raise the aspirations of their followers; they make people more confident, energetic, and enthusiastic. He said that, people who are motivated by great leaders dream big, make sacrifices and achieve miracles. We believe he is a great leader,” Limayem said.

 “For all he has done to shape his business, his community, his nation and the world in which we now live, we are so very pleased and honored to recognize N. R. Narayan Murhty with the 2012 USF College of Business Free Enterprise Award. You are a role model not just because of the success you have achieved, but because of the way in which you achieved it.”

 With those words Murthy became the 23rd recipient of the award, joining such great names as the late William F. Buckley, Jr., Congressman Jack Kemp, Columbia Restaurant scion Richard Gonzmart and Busch Entertainment’s Jim Atchison.

 The emcees of the event, two College of Business graduates, Maria Valentino and Brian Wing both visited Infosys through USF’s study abroad program. 

 “The Infosys campus is unbelievable,” said Valentino. “The India summer study experience left us feeling unbelievably energized about our chosen career field.”

 In his acceptance remarks, Murthy touched on another theme woven through the day, the importance of engendering a culture of respect for all involved in his enterprise.

 “Building a business to me is all about great aspirations and it is about deferred gratification,” he said. Leading by example was key to survival through tough times when money was scarce and the business climate was difficult.

 At the luncheon, Lekha Chari and Veena Shayshadree performed an Indian dance titled Pushpanjali, a style of dancing known as Bharatnatyam, a classical dance of south India.

 Another series of private meetings gave him an opportunity to talk at length with Limayem and then with USF President Judy Genshaft. He concluded the day with the President’s Global Leadership Award presentation. 

 “We are so thrilled to have this global business pioneer with us today,” Genshaft said. “and see this as a great moment for our campus in hosting an individual who has truly made his mark on the world as a visionary and humanitarian.”

 Praising Murthy for his achievements, she added, “The time he has spent with our students will make an impression on them that will last a lifetime.”

 For Murthy, the final award and the Patel Center where it was being presented touched on “a topic that is very close to my heart, sustainability and entrepreneurship.” 

 He quoted Mahatma Gandhi to introduce his own core belief: “The planet provides enough to satisfy the needs of every person but not the greed of every person,” he said and went on to point out that seeking “green” solutions provides “fertile ground for innovation and entrepreneurship.” 

 Accepting this award, Murthy shared his formula for success for the next generation of businesses focused on sustainability. First, if an idea can be expressed in a simple sentence, “not a compound sentence, not a complex sentence,” he said, then it has a chance. Also of importance is that the “market must be ready to consume the idea.” And every new enterprise should have a team with the skills, expertise and experience to make it a success. 

 “This is how you build a successful enterprise,” he said.

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