Companies can’t flourish without a social conscience

NR Narayana Murthy
NR Narayana Murthy

‘We the capitalists have to become compassionate’, argues 
NR Narayana Murthy, co-founder of global software consulting company Infosys

Most nations can have brilliant ideas and create jobs and wealth. We’ve seen a democratisation of innovation and entrepreneurship, needed more than ever to create jobs and eliminate poverty.

The best way to nurture entrepreneurship is to first look at primary, secondary and higher education and help children apply their learning to understand the world and solve problems. How do we get better-quality water? How do we create electricity from sunlight more efficiently?

Countries also need to be more business-friendly. Take Dubai, where the motto is: “If it is good for business, it is good for Dubai.”

But capitalists have to become compassionate. With every decision, we have to ask whether it will also help society. Some of the profits we make should be used to make our society a better place. We also need to develop programmes to create opportunity for poorer sections of society in terms of jobs and education.

Being wealthy in a poor society is useful. But I also have to ensure people around me attain a better quality of life.

India is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world – it has the second or third largest number of billionaires. But it also has the highest number of poor people and illiterates. Any initiative that helps India to improve itself has to be for the betterment of the world. India can also serve as a role model for lots of developing countries in terms of eliminating poverty, ill health and illiteracy.

The only way civilised societies remain stable, equal and live in peace and harmony is if the rich and powerful show self-restraint. In a country like India, it is the responsibility of the rich to show self-restraint in terms of their remuneration, lifestyle and profligacy.

The only way civilised societies remain stable, equal and live in peace and harmony is if the rich and powerful show self-restraint

They have to demonstrate that they share the concerns of the society as much as anybody else.

People are important because they are customers, investors, employees – they elect politicians and the bureaucrats. Earning the respect and the goodwill of the people around us is our most important goal.

A leader is an agent of change and transformation and their primary responsibility is to raise the aspirations of the people, to follow the adage: ‘A plausible impossibility is better than a convincing possibility.’ The task of a leader was best summed up by Robert Kennedy, who quoted George Bernard Shaw: “Some people see things as they are and say, why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?”

I learned a lot about leadership at Infosys. One of the most important principles was Gandhi’s notion that leadership by example is best. If you want your people to take tough decisions based on meritocracy, you must first do this as a leader. It builds trust within the company and community and confidence in you.

We’ve all made mistakes. There were discussions and debates at Infosys based on data and facts, which would help us eliminate our emotions and opinions when coming to a conclusion. In such an environment, you may not take the best decisions, but you will not take disastrous decisions.

Businesses would be more socially responsible with more women in them. We need to find a way for women to participate in the corporate world and continue to be connected to the business when they have children.

I don’t know of any country that has made fast economic progress without an environment of courtesy, peace, harmony and respect. Once you live in such a society, your confidence level about the future is higher. You will feel more energetic and enthusiastic and put in more effort and be more productive and contribute to faster economic progress.