N.R. Narayana Murthy, 52, tops the polls as India's most admired businessman. He's certainly an inspiration: He and six colleagues used their combined life savings of $1,000 to found Infosys Technologies in 1981. The provider of Internet and e-commerce software services had annual sales of $200 million last year, while profits soared 260%.
Now, Murthy is working to make Infosys as respected around the world as it is at home. Last year, he handed over daily management of Infosys to co-founder Nandan Nilekani. Murthy spends half his time traveling the world, meeting customers, investors, and even students. The U.S. is very competitive, so "we have to increase our brand equity there," says Murthy. Infosys' U.S. customer base doubled last year, to 200 clients.
Murthy, a humble engineer from southern India, is in some ways too shy for his role as model and statesman. He doesn't like to talk about it, but he gives away untold millions of dollars in gains from the Infosys stock he sells when prices rise, mostly to benefit higher education in India. This year, he was awarded one of India's highest civilian awards, the Padma Shri, for his contribution to the IT industry. Murthy sits on a Prime Ministerial task force on developing technology, which he says is the key to eradicating India's poverty. "If technology is to reduce costs, to improve production, who needs these more than the poor?" he says.
Despite the phenomenal rise of his fortunes, Murthy retains his modest ways. He still does a full day's work and then some, but these days he allows himself one indulgence. Instead of arriving at his Bangalore office at 6 every morning as he has for years, Murthy now starts at 7 a.m.