Nandan Nilekani is someone I admire. Someone I know a bit having worked in Infosys during the days when he was the CEO. After reading the book Imagining India, I want to write this letter to him.
I just finished reading your book on Imagining India, which you have structured around various ideas: ideas that worked, that did not work, ideas that are still in process and some ideas that must be explored experimented and implemented. We are all familiar with most of these ideas. Some by virtue of our education and some by virtue of the hyperactive media in the country.
For someone like you who has been on the forefront of the revolution that swept India in the last couple of decades or so, there is so much that you can and you must share with the world and especially with young Indians. Here are some of the things that I can suggest, but I am sure there are many more:
How to build a brand from scratch?
I think one of the Infosys’s biggest contributions to India is the creation of a brand whose roots are purely Indian, but it is as global as it can be. You created a brand at a time when there was no known global brand that came from India. And you did build this brand consciously. You made sure the quality of your services provides the base for the brand. That is strengthened by the right mix of PR and media relations. You created the brand by focusing on the aspects that were usually ignored by Indian corporations till Infosys brought them in fashion. You created a brand around values that had deep roots in India. And around the human capital that not many at that time looked at as an asset. You created a brand that commands respect above everything else.
How to create the supply base where none exists?
You created a system to convert all kinds of engineers into software engineers. There was a huge opportunity for Indian software industry. But the education system in the country did not even produce 1% of the engineers with required skill sets. Most people would have taken this as a bottleneck and backed out. But you started the trend of taking bright engineers from all branches and then putting them through a university like a course. To convert them into software engineers like an alchemist. There are arguments for and against this. But to me, this was a great move probably the biggest innovative idea that created today’s Indian IT industry or the so-called the IT dream. But for this innovation, everything else might have failed.
How to achieve scale without diluting the core?
One of the important success factors for Infosys had been its ability to scale without diluting the values and the ways it operated. It maintained its middle-class culture while dealing with the best and some of the most flamboyant personalities and companies. You must share how to scale up in such a way that the whole organization is geared up for the next level of scale. How to sync up the scale of various aspects of the organization and that too on a continuous basis.
How to groom yourself for handling this scale?
Not many people realize that while you were building this organization, you must have constantly groomed and prepared yourself for handing the bigger challenges. Managing the current organization while laying down the vision for the next one. I remember in one of the quarterly town halls you said ‘Guys, help me, I am also learning to handle a billion dollar organization’. Now it must have been a challenge to prepare yourself for handling something that grew far beyond your own dreams. Share with us how to dream big and constantly keep improving the size of your dreams. There would be a lot of stories and learnings that you must share with the future leaders so that they can learn from your experience.
How to use PR effectively without spending a fortune?
I think a tool that Infosys has used extremely effectively during its growth trajectory and continues to do so, is using positive PR through a variety of media. Whatever you did differently or innovatively was used to put the company in the right light. Be it training the support staff, be it airlifting the employees during hurricanes, be it hiring the graduates from ivy league colleges and making them work from Bangalore. Be it campus connect or be it building the world-class campus. I think PR was always used very intelligently which not many organizations do.
How not to let the limitations of your environment limit your dreams?
You created a world-class campus right in the middle of the mess. You competed with and challenged the best in the world when most Indians thought they can not do so when the business environment in the country was not really supportive. Tell us what drove you, what gave you confidence and what kept you going. Tell us the course corrections you took to adjust to the external environment. And tell us what worked in your favor and what limited you.
As I was writing this post, news of you handling the Unique ID project came in. I am sure you are happy to take on that responsibility as you have advocated the need of UID throughout your book.
Wish you all the best for the new role where you would have new challenges to handle and I am sure new heights to be defined. I would love to work with you again sometime somewhere.
Thanks & Regards