Nandan Nilekani Interview

Excerpts from an interview with Infosys’ president and CEO in SFGate:

Q: What transformations or changes have you seen in your own country because of your industry?

A: To understand the changes, we have to go back to 1991. What happened in 1991 was that India went through a major process of reform. Before that, it was very difficult to do business. There were import barriers, high import tariffs, and it was difficult to travel abroad.

It’s very coincidental, because the new prime minister is a gentleman called Manmohan Singh. He actually was the finance minister in 1991. He was the architect of this whole change.

Essentially, the impact was that India became much more of a free-market economy, and industries like ours, which had a global component, became very strong.

To give you an idea, in 1991, the total revenue in the Indian economy from software exports was $50 million. Now it’s about $1 billion, and the whole industry is about $12 billion in revenue.

And what has happened is it has created all these jobs, a lot of new companies, a lot of very nice campuses where these jobs are done.

People are becoming much more globalized, global in the mind-set, because they’re dealing with the external world.

Also, the Indian brand has grown, and people are aware of what we do. It’s also given a lot of self-confidence to people. They can do something which is globally successful and globally acceptable.

So I think it’s been a sea change in attitude and behavior and confidence. All that has come because of the success in this industry. It’s a very important part of what’s happening there.

Q: If you look at it on the street level, what changes have you seen in the quality of life of Indian workers and their purchasing ability or lifestyle?

A: Let me just tell you that this business is really a very small fraction of the Indian workforce. India has a population of 1 billion people, and the number of people who can work is maybe about 400 to 500 million people.

This industry is about a million people at best. It’s really a small fraction of the total workforce. In fact, people think that part of this (recent) election in India was the worker saying it’s hardly enough just to have an IT industry. Really, the whole country has to benefit.

Q: Part of the criticism in the election was that economic benefits were not spreading deep enough into the populace. Does outsourcing have the ability to do that?

A: I think people expect, at best, this industry will create 2 million, 3 million, 4 million jobs over the next 10 years.

Considering that India has the largest population of young people anywhere in the world, considering that 10 million new people join the workforce every year, this is not going to solve the unemployment issue.

Therefore, what people are now saying is that we need a broad-based strategy for job creation which is not just in the IT and business processing sector, but in agriculture, manufacturing, tourism, retailing and all of the sectors.

It should create jobs not just in small urban pockets but in the smaller towns and rural areas. That’s clearly one of the messages from this election.

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.