Narayana Murthy’s lessons on how to build a business that lasts

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The world’s richest man believes the 21st century will be the century of India. But one of India’s most prominent business leaders thinks the country’s small- and medium-sized companies will have to earn that for themselves.

Yesterday (Jan. 15), Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos predicted that “this century is going to be about the alliance between India and the US, between the world’s largest democracy and the world’s oldest democracy.” Bezos was speaking at a small- and medium-business engagement event organised by Amazon in New Delhi.

“But the responsibility of making that prediction come true rests squarely on your shoulders,” added NR Narayana Murthy, founder of India’s second-largest IT services company, Infosys, who spoke at the event after Bezos. “And for a very important reason—that 85% of India’s business comes from the unorganised sector, about 10% from SMEs, and probably 5% from large companies. And therefore, you do play a very important role in making the 21st century India’s century.”

And the only way that could happen, Murthy said, was to make India economically powerful. For that, he offered pointed advice for Indian entrepreneurs:

“Think of differentiation at all times”

The best way to attract more customers to a business is to innovate and offer something that isn’t already available, according to Murthy.

“To do that, the most important thing you people have to do is to create an idea whose differentiated business value proposition is better than any of your competitors… You must think of differentiation at all times. And that differentiation is going to come because of innovation.”

“Attract people who are smarter than you”

For Murthy, innovation stems from the power of the human mind. “And therefore, you must attract people who are smarter than you, people who will teach you better things. Do everything to attract the best quality of people,” he said. These people, he added, could be better than you, not just in terms of intellect, but also values.

“Make sure you have a team which has mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive set of skills and expertise. Because for every corporation to grow bigger and bigger, it has to have people in the business, in other businesses, in sales, finance, human resource, etc.”

“Make India a better place for everyone”

Murthy also spoke about how a company’s value system is essential to its growth. “I don’t know of any company that has survived without a durable value system. It is what you need to succeed in the long term,” he said.

And this also includes the social engagement of businesses.

“Another important ingredient for success is for a business to live in harmony with the interests of society. Unless India becomes better, you can’t become better. Unless your state becomes better, you can’t become better. In whatever you are doing, make this a better place for everyone.”

“Not used to delays”

Murthy is a succinct speaker, and more so when he is miffed about poor time management.

The septuagenarian business leader was to deliver the keynote address between 11.20 am and 11.45am. “But it is now already 11.53am,” he remarked wryly. He spoke for only five minutes against the over 20 minutes given to him, trying to condense his speech as much as he could. “I am not used to such delays,” he said.