Saturday, August 20, 2011

Humble person, great brand

Mr N. R. Narayana Murthy is retiring from Infosys, the company that he founded (with a few of his friends), a company that he led to pre-eminence even as everyone is asking “Why” and not “Why not?”.

To a perpetual student of branding like me, Mr Narayana Murthy is the ultimate personal brand — demonstrating in no uncertain terms that people from the corporate world can as much be brands as people from sports or entertainment.

For five years, brand-comm, the company I founded did a business leadership survey amongst management students in India and every year, Mr Narayana Murthy with predictable and monotonous regularity was the most admired business leader as chosen by India's future managers.

We promptly gave up doing the study after five years!

Tempted as I am to wax eloquent about his rise to personal brand stardom, I shall desist and stay with my views of him as a person that I knew. Although my opportunities to interact and learn from him were limited, they were impactful enough to make an impression on me and provide opportunities to learn from.

The early years

I first met Mr Narayana Murthy when I was the head of Mudra in Bangalore and it was our agency that had handled the advertising for the public issue. I remember a team of eight of us going for the meeting. (To those of you who are unfamiliar with the advertising industry,
I must confess that we believe in the strength of numbers rather than in the power of ideas). In those days, Infosys operated in a small office at Koramangala. Today that is a heritage office of the company.

But believe it or not, there were not enough spare chairs in the office and some of the employees went out to stretch their legs. And just see where NRN has taken the company in two decades! A simple lesson — it is not where you are now, but where you wish to be that matters in the ultimate analysis. I did have a small regret though.

The cutting edge campaign that we created for the company was not approved. In hindsight, the company took the right call as the campaign depicted what Infosys could be, and not what it was then. Even in its advertising, the company was not making forward-looking statements — something that other corporates might do well to note.

An unlikely cricket fan

I had wanted to interview Mr Narayana Murthy for my first book One land, one billion minds and he readily agreed. I was carefully noting down whatever he was saying in his cabin when we were interrupted.

He had an unexpected visitor in G. R. Vishwanath, who incidentally was my favourite cricketer. Mr. Narayana Murthy excused himself and when someone introduced him to Vishy, he said, “Of course, I am a great fan of yours. I was at Kanpur at your debut with my friends and can never forget your innings.”

To which that wonderful cricketer said with a twinkle in his eye, “Not the first innings, I hope,” , as he had scored a duck in the first innings.

While the incident itself was a simple one, it showed a new dimension to the great man. The wonderful game of cricket had an unlikely follower in one of India's leading lights of industry who even knew what the batsman had scored on his debut.

There was another aspect of the great man that I must mention. When the government thoughtlessly decided to control the functioning of the IIMs, the IIM-B alumni association of which I was a part sent a letter of support to over 40 board members of the different IIMs.

We got one solitary acknowledgement — that was from Mr Narayana Murthy who was the chairman of the board of IIM-A. Not even IIM-B, our alma mater, responded!

I have always admired Mr Narayana Murthy's ability to always acknowledge and respond to mails and letters. Sadly not many follow his example in today's corporate world, and perhaps not even in Infosys.

With brains and a heart

It is easy to talk at length about Mr Narayana Murthy's simplicity, his spartan life style, his down-to-earth qualities and the influence of his values on the company that he founded. His phenomenal success over the years had no impact on him as a person.

Even today, when he has become a global brand, he remains the same simple individual that he was in '91. And let us not forget his contributions and those by his family members to various social causes.

I wish corporate India had more gentlemen with brains and open wallets like the founder of Infosys who retires. He leaves with Infosys a legacy of success, values and ethics that few have created in their lifetime.

I am sure the future holds greater things for him.

Mr Infosys - the person and the brand.

Narayana Murthy walks into the sunset leaving Infosys with a legacy of success, values and ethics that few have created in their lifetime.

Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, brand – comm.
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Rajendra said...

I also had a letter back from Mr. Murthy when we at IIMK had invited him for an event. Regrettably, it was a regret letter, but the important thing- he had the courtesy to reply.

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Absolutely. That is better than being ignored.