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Murty says his blueprint could do to IT what Henry Ford did to cars

A couple of years before he joined Infosys as executive assistant to his father, N R Narayana Murthy, Rohan Murty had as a client approached a reputed IT company in Bengaluru to get some work done for a non-profit venture of his. But he was stunned by the fee the company quoted. “It was huge! I knew that if I paid two smart undergrads at Harvard, they would do it for me in the summer for a small fraction of what they were quoting,” Murty says. When he asked the company to justify the amount (“It wasn’t Infosys,” he clarifies, with a grin), they were unable to give a convincing reply.

If the initiatives Murty set in motion at Infosys in the year he spent there are continued, he believes the day might not be far when an IT services company will be able to tell a client not only why exactly the services are worth the amount charged but also guarantee a minimum level of productivity, which the client would get a regular report about so that they could “see they were not being shortchanged”.

His mandate at Infosys, he says in an interview at the family office in Jayanagar and his first after the stint at Infosys, was to solve the problem of how to measure the individual productivity of a software engineer. During his time there, roughly 10,000 people were involved in the programme, though he says he does not know if it is being continued as he is now just “a regular shareholder”. During a nearly two-hour conversation, the 31-year old explains why it is such a crucial but hard problem to tackle, a subject that was also central to the speech he delivered at his alma mater, Cornell University, recently.

Like his father, who famously said, “In God we trust, the rest must come with data”, Murty is a firm believer in data. “As Lord Kelvin said, what you cannot measure you cannot improve,” says Murty, who has a PhD in computer science from Harvard. And through measuring individual productivity, which he says no one else in the industry has talked about so far, all the stakeholders stand to gain – from the client, to the firm, to the employee, who would be able to see exactly why her appraisal was what it was. “What I am talking about is a fundamental reorganisation of the industry that is no less transformational, according to me, than what Henry Ford did to car manufacturing,” he says.

Murty’s passion for computer science is hard to miss, a passion he says began from the time he was eight, when he started programming. For the first time, Murty opens up about why he accompanied his father to Infosys. It was never really a part of my plan, my life’s aspiration, says Murty, who left the company on June 14, the day Infosys named Vishal Sikka as CEO.

“The only reason I came was because my father told me he wanted to do something and he wanted somebody who could bring a different perspective. I am not trying to claim that I am a genius… but he said he wanted somebody from outside who would not believe everything that was inside,” Murty says, adding he would not have come if his father was 58, instead of 68.

Though he does not rule out a role in the IT services industry in future, Infosys, it seems, is off the table. “The moment I say Infosys, you will say return of the prince, the prodigal son…” he says wryly, taking a dig at the furore that had accompanied his entry into Infosys.

When reminded that it was because of his father’s firm stand earlier that no family member of the founders would join the company, he says, “I don’t want to take names but in many other companies in India, people far younger than me have been put into all kinds of positions, without any qualification. Where was the vociferousness then?”

Murty is wary of discussing his current plans, perhaps due to the attention his Infosys stint drew. “I am working very hard, travelling a lot and whatever I am doing, I want to do in peace and quiet, without any attention.”

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