When Narayana Murthy and six friends threw $250 each into a pot and set up a software firm in Bangalore in 1981, they had ambition, sure. According to Murthy's account of that first meeting in his bedsit in a Bombay slum, some of his partners wanted to build a company with a reputation for efficiency, some for innovation, and some for profits. After seven hours of discussion, they decided their company, Infosys, would uphold a standard of all-around excellence. What they did not envision was that they would also transform the way the entire world does business.
When he retired as executive chairman of Infosys this year, Murthy was worth $1.3 billion. But far more significant than his personal returns, his wildly successful company had laid the groundwork for the business process outsourcing that defines globalization in action. Infosys showed that, with modern communication networks, it was possible for well-educated, low-cost Indian laborers to take on some of the office grunt work, such as software programming, needed by the West's corporations. The result: enormous cost savings for companies across Europe and the U.S. and unheard-of employment opportunities in the developing world. Infosys, along with hundreds of imitators in Bangalore, Hyderabad, New Delhi and Bombay, made India a crucible for globalization, helping to lift the impoverished country out of the dark ages. India's outsourcing sector today generates annual revenues of $36 billion, up from $150 million in 1991.
But Murthy, 60, is now ready for a second career: he wants to ease the inequities exacerbated by the process he helped to start. Globalization has been a boon for many, with millionaires being minted at a record pace around the world. Yet below this Úlite, the picture changes. Sucking in overseas jobs has not eased India's poverty as might be expected, not least because only one million Indians in a nation of 1.1 billion are employed by the outsourcing sector. And, for all its progress, India is still not home to a vast new middle class only 58 million Indians earn more than $4,400 a year. "The disposable income of rural people has actually dipped," notes Murthy. "They're saying: 'Is this globalization? Is this all we're going to get?'" He hopes to encourage policies such as the buildup of manufacturing in rural areas to ensure that globalization works for all. "I don't know whether people will listen to me or not," says Murthy. Given his record, it might profit them to do so.