NR Narayana Murthy's first meeting with Azim Premji, who has announced his decision to demit office as executive chairman of Wipro at 75, apparently did not go well for the Infosys founder. The meeting at Mumbai's Willingdon Club was some time before Murthy founded Infosys and Premji branched off to IT services field. Murthy, now 72, remembers that he was looking for a change of job from Patni Computer Systems where he was heading the company's software group.
The interaction between the two was cordial but Murthy did not get selected for the job as software head of the yet-to-start technology group in Wipro. Fortuitous, though it might have been, Murthy writes in an article in the Economic Times, the failure to get the job forced him to return to native Bengaluru and advance his entrepreneurial project by a couple of years. The rest is history with Infosys becoming one of the top two IT services companies in the country.
Wipro was not far behind as it also launched its IT services arm soon but it took the company a while to become India's third-biggest IT services provider behind Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) and Infosys.
What struck Murthy most during the conversation was Premji's deep desire to understand the market and the competitors, he writes. Murthy recalls that Premji would keep in touch calling him several times a year to find out about "our progress and our market strategies". "I was very open with him and did not hide anything from him since I knew that our superiority with our competitors came only from how quickly we came out with new ideas and how well and quickly we executed them," he writes.
Murthy's note exudes respect for his peer and also throws light on the style of functioning of Premji. Though shy of visiting Infosys office in Electronic City, Premji would invite Murthy and his team to Sarjapur Wipro Campus office. The tet-a-tets to which Murthy's associates like Nandan Nilekani, Kris Gopalakrishnan, and Mohandas Pai were also often invited were candid and Wipro chief executives like Vivek Paul and Chandrasekharan V also were occasionally present.
The friendship between Murthy's wife Sudha and Premji's wife Yasmeen also grew because of their shared interest in literary activities, Murthy recalls. "Azim has always led by example in hard work and austerity. He travelled by economy in India and it was a joy to meet him on flights and continue our conversations."
Murthy remembers he and Premji were the only two members of the Indo-French Business Forum that travelled by taxis or subway and stayed in three-star hotels when they went to Paris for meetings. The management style of Premji, which has paid him rich dividends, is marked by separating management from control. "For him, like for us, compliance with the laws of the country always came first. He stands for honesty, decency, fairness, and courtesy in every decision he takes," Murthy writes. The two did have different views on the finer points of management and state role in business growth. Even while they persist, the two get along as human beings and professionals in an exemplary manner, it would appear.