Entrepreneurship can transform the world and lift people out of poverty, said N.R. Narayana Murthy, co-founder of the international information technology consultancy Infosys Ltd., speaking on campus Sept. 10. But an entrepreneur needs more than good business skills: He or she needs leadership and courage.
Murthy, who spoke as part of the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management's Distinguished Global Leader Speaker Series, and six partners co-founded Infosys in 1981 with start-up capital of $250 borrowed from their spouses. The company led India's IT revolution and has revenues of more than $7 billion. Forbes magazine estimates Murthy's personal wealth at $1.7 billion.
Growing up in a "lower-middle class" household, Murthy excelled at academics and studied at India's top technical school, the Indian Institute of Technology. In his 20s, while interning in France in the 1970s, Murthy interacted with people from varied fields and began to understand entrepreneurship's potential to change people's lives for the better, he said.
"Societies do not solve the problem of poverty by slogans," he said. "They solve the problem by creating jobs that increase disposable income. That's where I realized entrepreneurship becomes really important."
He continued, "Entrepreneurship is about creating jobs and wealth with ideas. It is about transforming the world with your new products and new ideas. It is, therefore, about courage. It is about making the possibly impossible happen," said Murthy, describing entrepreneurship as the driving force of change in the 21st century.
Further, he said, entrepreneurship is about "raising the aspirations of people, making them more confident, more hopeful. It is about making them do the impossible stuff."
Murthy also gave pointers to first-time entrepreneurs by emphasizing how ideas succeed: a differentiated value proposition; correct timing in the market; and a cohesive, mutually respectful team to implement it. "The market needs to be ready for your idea or it will fail," said Murthy.
Murthy, a Cornell trustee emeritus, served as Infosys CEO 1981-2002. Since stepping down as chairman in 2011, he has led the Infosys Foundation, which uses social entrepreneurship to provide health, education and social services to people from underprivileged backgrounds. He is noted for his modest lifestyle and commitment to charity, and recommended: "Live in harmony with society ... have the good will of society."
Umang Prabhakar '13 is a writer intern at the Cornell Chronicle.