Saturday, May 9, 2009

Narayana Murthy - Part 4

Despite the fact that India's stature has grown globally, there is criticism that only 30 per cent engineers are employable in India. Do you agree?

You know this industry -- my own IT industry -- on an average recruits about 200,000 to 250,000 engineers a year. And we produce about 400,000 or so.

In that sense possibly about 50 per cent engineers are absorbed, and hopefully other sectors employ the rest of them. It is difficult for me to believe that 70 per cent of the engineering graduates are unemployed. However, this year it could be different because the recruitment levels of all companies have gone down.

What do you think could be done to make higher education in India better?

To enhance the quality of our higher education, we can do five things:

One, enhance the autonomy of our higher education system;

Second, encourage them to collaborate with world-class institutions outside India, within India too, but most of them are outside India... ;

Third, bring in a sense of meritocracy in the selection of students and the appointment and promotion of faculty;

Fourth, create incentives for our faculty members to do more world-class research; and

Fifth, remove any licensing in the education system. We gave up most of industrial licensing in 1991. It is silly that we continue licensing of our educational institutions.

Talking about higher education... even the recommendations made to the Knowledge Commission have not been implemented? Why does this happen?

The Indian society is a society of ideas. It is a society that has revered talk. In this society, articulation is mistaken for accomplishment. We are quite satisfied with our voice, with our writings. This is not a society that is focussed on execution.

Frankly, the problem is due to our caste system and the dominance of Brahmins in our society for long period. The Brahminical system said my job is to think of the higher worlds. My job is to think of connecting you people with God. I don't want to do anything that has a relationship with the real world.

Now that is a problem that has played havoc with the Indian culture. So, here in this culture, if you do anything with your hands, it is considered less honourable that anything to do with your brain.

Here everybody wants to be an engineer, nobody wants to be a technician. So when a society does not value implementation, execution, what happens is you create more and more reports and nothing gets done.

For example, (Reliance Industries Chairman) Mr Mukesh Ambani and I gave two reports on how to improve the higher education system: one to (then prime minister) Mr Vajpayee and one to Dr Manmohan Singh.

Second, there has been the Knowledge Commission. Nothing has happened. Third, in 1998 I was a member of the IT Task Force -- which was headed by Mr Jaswant Singh -- and that task force submitted its report somewhere in 1999 0r 2000.

Nine years and I don't think even one suggestion has been implemented. And we made 108 suggestions! So that is why I am not a big fan of ideas in India.

My brother-in-law is a famous professor of physics at Caltech and he tells me it is very easy to come out with an idea. But to validate that idea he and his doctoral students will have to work hard for six months, one year... sometimes two years. That takes 20 hours of work each day for two years. So it is important to come out with new ideas, but it is even more important to execute them.

We are not a nation of doers; we are a nation which believes that our articulation is our accomplishment.

What would you say has been your best business decision?

My best business decision is clearly sitting down with my younger colleagues and together coming to the conclusion that our objective must be to seek respect from every one of our stakeholders -- respect from customers, respect from employees, respect from vendor partners, respect from investors, respect from government of the land, and respect from society. . . I can tell you that that is the best decision that I have taken.

We had a four-hour-long discussion in 1981. Somebody said we must be the company with the most revenue, somebody else said we must be the most profitable. Finally, we all agreed that we will become the most respected company in India. Our logic was very simple. If we seek respect from our customers, we will not shortchange them; if we seek respect from our employees, we will treat them with dignity and fairness; if we seek respect from our investors, we will follow the best principles of corporate governance; if we seek respect from our vendor partners we will be fair with them and sympathetic to them; if we seek respect from the government, we will not violate a single law of the land, and if we seek respect from our society, we will give back to the society.

And then we said revenues will come, profits will come, market capitalization with come.

And in 1999, when Economic Times instituted their award, we were the first company to win the award of the Best Company of the Year, ahead of all multinationals and corporations much bigger than us! To me, that has given us the greatest satisfaction: the fact that we chose respect as the most important objective.

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