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Narayana Murthy's time is gone. He should now focus on issues bigger than Infosys

Neeraj Thakur | Updated on: 20 July 2017, 18:59 IST
(Deepak G Pawar/The India Today Group/Getty Images)

A lot of Indians seem to have problem in hanging up their boots. Be it bureaucrats, sportspersons, actors, or patriarchs of business families, there is a tendency to avoid retirement and continue to hold on to the position of strength – until someone forces the oldie out of the system.

The founder of India's second-largest IT firm Infosys, the 71-year-old NR Narayana Murthy, seems to have the same problem. He regrets having retired after helming one of the country's most successful companies for 33 years.

In a recent interview, Murthy revealed his biggest regret – not paying heed to his founder colleagues, who wanted him to continue running the show for a few more years.

Murthy, like many Indian patriarchs, is unhappy with the way his empire – if one can call Infosys that – is being run by his successor, Vishal Sikka.

Within a year of passed on the baton to Sikka, who was chosen after a long search by the management, Murthy has had run-ins with the new management over issues pertaining to corporate governance and the salary of the CEO and other top employees.

A similar saga played out in one of India's biggest businesses houses – Tata Sons – when group patriarch Ratan Tata made a come back to the company's board, sacking the incumbent chairman, Cyrus Mistry, on allegations of not running the companies in the spirit of the group's philosophy.

Given his small shareholding in Infosys, Murthy was never in the position to write the same kind of script as Tata for his comeback. But Murthy's ruminations and Tata's actions are emblematic of Indian culture. The old in India want to prolong their tenure on the hot seat.

A sporting parallel

The world of sports is littered with examples of those who didn't know when to say goodbye – from basketball's Michael Jordan to motor racing's Michael Schumacher to our very own Sachin Tendulkar.

The Master Blaster's wobbly survival post the 2011 World Cup was certainly unbecoming of his tall stature in the game. He could have simply retired at his peak and avoided the criticism that he received until finally deciding to bid goodbye to the game in November 2013.

In the words of one of India's leading cricketing lights, the Late Vijay Merchant, “retire when people ask why, and not when”. Unfortunately, very few Indians believe in this philosophy.

On the other hand, one finds a few examples in the West of people enjoying an early transition to retired life, as they see that stage of life as an opportunity to explore higher goals in life.

Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov retired from the game at the age of 42 and became a celebrated human rights activist and a writer. Today, he is an outspoken critic of Russia's strongman President Vladimir Putin.

Murthy may also want to look at his contemporary in the software business, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who gave up his full-time position in the company at the age of 50 in 2005. Since then, he has been passionately focussed on running his charitable organisation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with an aim to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty in the world.

What Murthy can do

If Murthy is so passionate about corporate governance and an unjustified salary structure for the top management in Infosys, the best thing to do would be to wage an awareness campaign that touches the whole corporate world. This is because Infosys is just a drop in the ocean of Indian corporates; the malice of loose corporate governance practices is prevalent in most companies.

Murthy must be appreciated for raising the issue of the wide gap between the compensation for the top level and junior employees. But the issue needs wider scrutiny and debate based on research about international best practices.

In 2013, Switzerland had a referendum on a proposal to cap 'fat cat' pay. The proposal suggested the per month salaries of top executives in companies should not be more than what the lowest-paid workers earned in a year. The referendum went against the proposal, but it helped generate the debate in Swiss society on the need to eliminate the wide wage difference.

People like Murthy must leave behind the nostalgia about their glorious stints, when they led from the front. Those days will never come back.

Rather, they should focus on what can be done from the outside, to contribute to a larger cause.

First published: 20 July 2017, 18:11 IST
Neeraj Thakur @neerajthakur2

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