A New Generation

Over the last 5-7 years this phenomenon has evolved. The IT outsourcing boom picked up and it transported a huge number of middle class Indians to the shores of developed countries and moreso the United States of America. Young programmers in their mid 20s awestruck in a new country. They travel in groups, save money by staying dime a dozen together and then come back home "Phoren - returned" after a year or two. Then its the turn to get married and back they go to US on another assignment. And it is here the phenomenon starts.

The US as a country has a policy that any child born in the United States can opt to have US citizenship. Over the last 7 years or so there has been an explosion in the number of kids born to Indian parents in US who now by virtue of their birth are US citizens.And these are not people who have been staying there for ages. These are people who are on short 1-2 year assignments.

Wat is in a passport some might say. Well a lot. It can change your outlook, the way you experience life and even the ease with which you can travel. So anyways back to these kids. I trully wonder where a few years from now each school in India will carry different sections for these kids. International school is an option but I do not believe that all parents would be able to afford one. I also try to wonder the mindset of these kids. Will they resent being in India due to their parents? Will they grow up knowing they may have an easy passage to US or will they slog it out for precious scare resources(read IIT / IIM etc) like an ordinary Indian kid? Will they really have an advantage of the US passport 20 years from now? Maybe today's developing world will be where the opportuitites are... I do not know the answers. I just hope these parents maintain their sanity and bring up these kids with care and help shape their lives in a proper way.

The Other Murthy

Disclaimer: The following is from an article published online in 2004 which I happened to come across.

December 1992. It was snowing hard in Boston. The man stepped off the plane and made his way to a small hotel. He had a year to prove himself in this foreign land. "It was the first time I had seen snow in my life. The first few days were tough. They had nothing vegetarian. I was eating pasta three times a day. I was fed up. I decided I had to go to a McDonald's," says Phaneesh Murthy. It had been snowing all through the week. So he just decided to wade through the slush and reach the nearest McDonald's. "But they didn't have anything vegetarian either. I was freezing so I sat there and drank three hot chocolates and munched on a few packets of French fries. It felt good. Here I was in America and I was in McDonald's. The American journey had started," he says.

For the next decade it would be a ride without any punctuation. And then in June 2002, the American journey came to a sudden full stop. Accused of sexual harassment of his executive assistant, Reka Maximovitch, Phaneesh Murthy would be dragged into courts. He would stand accused of suppressing facts, misrepresenting them to the board and, as a former colleague points out, "guilty of a serious error in judgement". Rather than choose to fight, he would agree to a $3-million payout to Ms Maximovitch. Phaneesh denies being a party to the settlement, but Infosys Technologies says the exact opposite. With the Karmic wheel in complete spin, the price would be dear - loss of job and definitely some reputation.

Cast down from nine circles of heaven into purgatory, he would wander looking for a fresh start. He would find temporary relief in Quintant, a consulting outfit. He would raise $30 million ($15 million was actually invested) before his funding agency, the Rs 2,500-crore GMR Group, a successful investor in ING Vysya with large interests in power, decided to pull the plug. GMR says it wanted to invest in its power business. But there is talk of Phaneesh being unable to get the revenues and business, and his investors getting impatient. Without the redoubtable army of developers, Phaneesh would be forced to abandon the fresh start and allow himself to be courted as CEO of software company iGate. Life would slowly slip back into the familiar. The future looking more like a linear extrapolation of the past, Phaneesh Murthy would wake up from a new dream into an old reality. But what matters is that it's real.

He is ready to float once more.

Phaneesh Murthy is sliding across the globe. He's dropped off the 30th parallel into Singapore. A week later he has tumbled down the E151 longitude into the Kangaroo land. It's late at night in Sydney but he's still trying to keep his antennae up. "I know what you are trying to say... but that's not the incident which fits. Let me think.... Hmm... hmm.... Okay, here's what is interesting and this happened while I was at IIM...," he says. That's when it strikes you. Phaneesh Murthy is a modem. No, no, don't go away; this is serious stuff. Think about it. In much the same way a modem screeches, whines and wails as it tries to match its thoughts with the other modem at the far end of the line, Phaneesh keeps rummaging, shuffling and hunting through analogies, metaphors and incidents to help you 'prove' your point. "I don't think the physics teacher example really demonstrates the point about 'my persuasive powers'. I'll give you another example." And off he goes again. It is a glimpse into the mind of a man who claims he scaled up Infosys sales from $2 million to $700 million. (Never use this line when talking to Infosys - it infuriates them to no end.) He has to do it all over again now.

Phaneesh has been on the road travelling to various iGate offices. "It's been gruelling," he says. "The passion level is high but we still have to do a lot of hard work before we realise value from that passion." That's as much an admission as a confession from the man, who, even close associates say, never had to try too hard to make things happen. This time it is different. He doesn't have as disciplined a cadre as he had at Infosys. He does not have as charismatic and far-sighted a guru as N.R. Narayana Murthy ('NRN') to open doors. Neither does he have as capable a strategist as Nandan Nilekani. "Sometimes I wonder if it was all a fluke. I really want to test myself again," he told a friend recently, referring to his innings at Infosys. The innings was not supposed to end the way it did.

It wasn't even supposed to begin that way. Phaneesh wanted to study medicine. But, instead, listened to his father, appeared for the IIT JEE, got a 132 all-India rank and did the obvious: joined. The IIT years were pretty uneventful otherwise. Phaneesh recollects that at IIT he was quite a "vela character".

In 1985, when Phaneesh finished his Bachelor's, he heard the song of the medicine man once more. "This time I took the test for medical schools in the US and applied to the Top 5 schools," he says. Harvard made him an offer with financial aid. Once again his father asked him to wait a while. He took the CAT and was selected to IIM-Ahmedabad. His ability to think big started right there. "Once we were trying to raise funds for an event and we had kept the sponsorship price at Rs 5,000. I said let's take it to Rs 10,000, and it worked," he says.When he left IIM-A, FMCG was big. The Nirma versus Hindustan Lever battle was drawing to a close; most people from the top of the class headed for a Lever or a Britannia. Phaneesh made the first unconventional decision of his life. He chose Sonata Software, a start-up in a tiny industry. To put things in perspective, TCS, a $1-billion company today, had a turnover of $15 million in 1987. "I did not find soaps intellectually stimulating. I wanted to do product management. In soaps or industrial products, most of the product definition is rarely changed. In software, you can use the customer feedback to improve the product," says Phaneesh. In Sonata, he also started on his first Mission Impossible. Design and sell a software for the Indian market. All the heroics were in vain though. The Indian IT industry was undergoing a disruptive change.

TCS started the offshore business model in mainframes in 1989. Soon Indian firms figured that a dollar was 17 times better than a rupee. Phaneesh realised the domestic software industry would not go anywhere. Indians could not take advantage of great products as they were just not ready for automation.

And then, in 1991, India Today carried an advertisement.The India Today AdvertisementIt was a two-page recruitment advertisement for a company called Infosys. There was a small line at the end of the ad: "We also need a marketing manager for the US. Should be willing to relocate and travel extensively." The position did not require major qualifications. "I said this is a company that needs some serious marketing help. For every other post advertised they had at least a paragraph of qualifications!" Phaneesh hit it off with Nandan. And then the turn came to meet NRN, who would be his mentor, guide and, ultimately, his judge.

NRN thought Phaneesh couldn't do the job. Phaneesh did not smoke, drink or eat meat; NRN thought he would not last. But he liked the fact that Phaneesh was a numbers-driven, facts-oriented marketing guy. The deal was done. But before that, a target had to be set. Nandan, domestic business head Vijay Kumar and Phaneesh sat down to set one for the first year. "I told $1 million," Phaneesh says. Why? "Because it was a nice number!" Nandan agreed. Infosys' turnover was about $2 million then. Vijay Kumar was bewildered and asked Nandan: "Aren't you going to ask him how he will get $1 million?" And Nandan replied: "That's his problem. If he wants help, he will ask." Phaneesh was told that he had one year to show results.

Coming To America

His first negotiations were anti-climactic. He was dealing with Apple Computers. "When I went back with the contract I found the entire team... on the deal had been sacked. I admired them. They (knew) it not personal, not stigmatic. It happened and you moved on," he says.The years after 1992 saw a huge acceleration in IT offshoring. "We were getting so much work that when I bagged a huge order somebody said 'Shit! That means we will have to work more'," says Phaneesh. The big break came in 1994. Infosys was pitching to Nordstrom for a sale order management system. "I studied all the literature and approached the CIO. They liked the proposal but thought we were not familiar with the US market and so, gave us the merchandising system to develop." It was Infosys' first-ever million-dollar contract.

That is also when Phaneesh started building up the sales organisation. His rules were simple: agree on certain things - like not signing unlimited liability clauses, deciding on targets - and you have a free hand. That was the only one way to handle the salesforce and the bigger accounts that Infosys was trying to bag. "I met Phaneesh on his return trips to India every three months. He would be full of questions: How's so-and-so? Where have you been recently? What's the feedback on that firm? He remembered everything you told him," says T.G. Ramesh, founder, Bangalore Labs, who now works with Phaneesh.

The sales team grew after 1994 and threw up stars like Basab Pradhan, Srinjay Sengupta and Shobha Meera. "He created the 'two cultures' of Infosys. The process-driven, conservative software developers... (and) his team that was answerable only to the board," says a source in Infosys. Phaneesh feels it was more the customer-facing culture that he developed. "I believe people who interact with the customers should drive the organisation. As for a free hand - the only way you get high performance is if, after an initial watch period, you give a high degree of autonomy.

In 1996, that point was proved. For the first time Infosys went head-to-head with a formidable consulting firm - Cambridge Technology Partners (CTP). The contract was for about $9 million. CTP bid $8 million. Phaneesh and his team's math: total cost, including profits, of $4 million. The majority was for quoting this price. The sales team figured it would be a mistake: the client would think they had no idea of the project's complexity. So the team doubled the bid to $8 million. Infosys got the project. It was a crossing of the Rubicon. Infosys could beat the heavy guns at their own game.

Such victories made the man who was once a doubting Thomas, a believer. NRN became like a father to Phaneesh. Phaneesh had been a Maths Olympiad top scorer; NRN loved to communicate in mathspeak. "You could be discussing at a dinner table and these guys would start. It would begin with problems and degenerate into discussing the greatest mathematician of all times," says a person who was at one such dinner. The relationship grew till Phaneesh broke the inverted first law of robotics: "A human may not injure a machine, or, through inaction, allow a machine to come to harm." That machine was Infosys. Phaneesh had already met Reka Maximovitch. "He tried to hurt the company. He tried to hurt Infosys," says a person who knows NRN really well.

Phaneesh had one last victory. He says he won the $37-million Greenpoint deal for Progeon. But the stories of his power within Infosys, his conduct, his putting the firm at grave risk, grew and grew. And on 23 July 2002, Phaneesh resigned. Some say he was "de-risked".

Is there something in the last two years that Phaneesh would have wanted to change? "That's a very open question. But tell you what - to go back and study medicine; that's what I want."

The Road Not Taken

I remember the poem below by Robert Frost which we read when we were in Class 6 or 7.

The Road Not Taken

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I am not sure inspite of writing an examination, we could do justice to the true meaning of this poem at that age. The inherent insights, implications and how it reflects in each of our lives probably can be felt much later when we are older and have been through many such divergent forks in our journey of life.

Choices we make are extremely important in life and most of the times there is no going back. We end up having to select between family, job, place, person and what not. There is no answer of how to select one over the other. I believe that you should act in a way which will have give you peace of mind that you followed your convictions, values and your beliefs, whatever be the outcome later.


It was a nice Friday night dinner. A bunch of friends from ISB met at an Afghani restaurant called Samarkand, one of the better rated restaurants in Bangalore. The ambiance was nice and so was the food and we soon got talking over some nice starters and a wonderful drink called Angoori Nasha. But the first thing that struck all of us in the first 10 minutes of our discussion was the fact that all of us miss ISB.

ISB was everything a dream life can have. A group of very bright individuals and their families as friends. A gated community offering California lifestyle shielding us from the horrors of daily life. Wonderful stimulating discussions on all topics under the sun. Working your *** off till wee hours of the morning. Then sleepwalking to class and dozing off in a jiffy. Sharing the fun and the pain of everyday life with your friends and peers. And lastly the most awesome parties ever.

ISB parties are the single biggest phenomenon I miss now. There is no better fun than working hard and playing hard. Letting your hair down with a few drinks and then swaying with some wonderful music by DJ Ananth . And for grabbing a quick rest there was the grass banks by the dance floor which got renamed to the Great Wall of Bengal. And then there were themed parties... The rain dance parties with water sprinklers in the mirror pool and live chaat counters, the Bollywood theme party, pyjama party, section parties and the awesome Holi celebration. Thinking about each of them makes me sad and I long for those amazing times to get back. Here after ISB, I have not partied for ages.

Actually part of it also has to do with the company. Many of my friends have got married and I don't know why but their party appetite has now dropped to ZERO. Anyways for the friends who are still interested, I think we need to explore some nice places for partying in Bangalore. Although Bangalore nightlife gets over by 11 PM due to government restriction, its still better than nothing. I think over the last year at ISB, we used to frequent almost all the discs and nightclubs in Hyderabad in addition all the premium restaurants. And look at us now. We are not students anymore and earning now but our "quality of life" has degraded. Something needs to be done about this. I am serious.

The Dream Machine

Its been more than 1.5 years since I have last driven. It is the single most thing I miss ever since I moved back to India. These days looking at a nice car on the road makes me jealous and I crave to own one. But then I remember the traffic here and my heart sinks. I don't know how to drive here in India and I don't think I want to learn as well. I feel driving here most of the time is a big big hassle.

Anyways enough of India bashing. This post is not about that. It is also about affordability of a good car. The nice cars in India are very costly compared to what you earn here. Let us take a example, a brand new Honda Civic in USA would cost you around 20000 USD, which is roughly 1/4 th of the annual salary of a middle class person. Here the same car would cost around 12 lakhs which would be 80%the total annal salary of similar people. See the difference!!!!

I always loved BMW. Even though I have driven a Merc, BMW is just differen than others. Any of you BMW fans out there, please search for BMW films in Youtube and watch them. They are awesome. It was BMW's classic campaign to improve brand awareness and create well defined customer segments and is now a Harvard Business Case study. All the films are 5-6 minutes long and are directed by some of Hollywood's best directors.

Here is to the car I aspire to own when I relocate to USA- The BMW 328i. Wish me luck !!!


Its strange how predictable life becomes when we start working. In my 1 year at ISB, everyday was different. Waking up in the morning after barely sleeping for 5 hours, I used to wonder what the day has in store. Now it is definitely not the same. Mondays to Fridays, I definitely know how the day will pan out. Weekends are similar as well with more sleep and occasional movies and a dinner out with friends. Sometimes I feel it is fine and this is how life is supposed to be. But there are times when I want something different. Something to break the shackles of this routine. I guess these are the hallmarks of a Sagittarius man and more so ME.

This week, finally got allocated to business units after being dumped with loads and loads of information about the company. But on the lighter side got allocated to Manufacturing BU after having an experience of close to 5.5 years in Media and Entertainment. But then as they say, sales is sales and a true salesman can succeed anywhere. In spite of a wish deep down to go to Europe, I would be required to take a permanent transfer to US by the end of this year. [Sigh] I guess vacationing to Europe is the only way out. But in hindsight, maybe US is not a bad option. I know my way around after having been there for close to 4 years and most importantly Indians are accepted easily unlike countries like France or Germany. Once we go to our units from next week, the picture would be clearer regarding actual responsibilities and specifics of the location.

On a personal front, the week was eventful though. Attended the wedding of a good friend of mine in Bangalore and happened to meet two of my school buddies there after 13 years. It was so good. I think we strike up a bond with school friends the best coz even after 13 years of not seeing each other, we got along just perfectly fine. The weddings also make me realize that with every passing day I am being reduced to a minority group called "bachelors". So when people come asking my standard response is "I cannot get married whenever I want. I need a willing girl as well ". So much so for the curious folks in India who will go to depths of questioning about your personal life. Anyways changing topics, yesterday evening also happened to watch the movie The Hangover. It is one kick ass hilarious movie. I laughed so much after a long long time. Although it can be a bit loud for some, its definitely the kind of movie you should watch on a Friday after a strenuous week of work. So there it is... Saturday morning now and I am already looking forward to the predictable weekend.