In this episode of the #InsightsPodcast series, we have Nandan Nilekani, Co-founder of Infosys and the man who put in place India’s Aadhaar identification system. He tells us about how his time at IIT-Bombay honed his skills, growing Infosys, working on the UIDAI project, and why the ‘thinker-doer’ approach works.
We continue with our #InsightsPodcast, and on this edition have with us one of India’s biggest business legends, Nandan Nilekani, Co-founder of Infosys, its current Non-Executive Chairman and the brain behind Aadhaar while serving as the Chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India. He is a Padma Bhushan awardee and was listed by TIME magazine among the 100 most influential people in the world in 2006 and 2009. In this episode, Nandan shares experiences from both, his business days and from his more recent journey of public service.
Nandan starts by giving a glimpse into his formative years – of growing up in Bengaluru and then Dharwad, and making it to IIT-Bombay without access to any coaching classes. He credits his IIT days with the social skills and confidence that helped him take risk and build a large company like Infosys. While at the college, he dabbled in the many social activities and played a key role in organising IIT-Bombay’s cultural fest, ‘Mood Indigo’.
Talking about his early days, from meeting Narayan Murthy while interviewing for Patni Computer Systems to co-founding Infosys in 1981, building India’s first software campus in Bangalore in 1992 and going public in 1993, Nandan says the vision to build a globally competitive technology company out of India and the planning for scale by focusing on building an aspirational brand for employees and setting audacious goals for growth helped scale the way Infosys did.
“When we were a $3-5 million company, we talked about becoming a $100 million company. When we were approaching $100 million in revenue, we asked what it takes to reach a billion dollars in revenue.”
Nandan talks about how having a five-year blue sky plan, three-year strategic plan and one-year operating plan helped ensure the right mix of nimbleness of a startup and the professionalism of a large corporate. More on the entrepreneurial journey at Infosys, and reimagining it as a cloud service, in the podcast.
Thinking and doing
Talking about his next entrepreneurial stint as employee #1 at UIDAI, Nandan elaborates on the unique experience of building a team that was an amalgamation of stalwart bureaucrats from the public sector and top tech talent from the private sector, working together to successfully roll out Aadhaar. Citing the famous “thinker-doer” approach, Nandan mentions how his experience in thinking and executing roles in both public and private work settings made him uniquely positioned to achieve UIDAI’s mandate.
Opening up on the personal front, Nandan says that his curiosity to learn new things, being open to learning from others in an attempt to constantly stay relevant, desire to do something new, and willingness to live with uncertainty are all part of the core beliefs that define his value system.
Be frugal with time
Nandan talks about how the dual approach of being execution- obsessed while being able to step back and think big picture is something that’s helpful for founders to think clearly.
On scaling as a founder, Nandan has a simple tip: “Being frugal with your time is important. I am generous with my money, but frugal with my time. Money, you can give it away and make it again. Time is a perishable resource.”
Talking about the present-day startup ecosystem, Nandan is excited and hopes to see the next generation of Kotak, HDFC, TCS, and Infosys emerge to create jobs for millions, and leverage India’s growing $2 trillion economy. He hopes to see leaders spread their power, by delegating, empowering, and sharing the glory.
Tune in to listen to Nandan Nilekani as he speaks about the startup ecosystem, leadership, and the future for India.