New calling: Murthy to turn venture capitalist

NEW DELHI: Twenty-eight years after he started Infosys with Rs 10,000 borrowed from his wife, NR Narayana Murthy, whose personal fortune today is said to be worth around $1.8 billion, wants to start a venture fund to invest in new ideas that create value for society.

In an exclusive chat with ET, the chairman and chief mentor of India’s second-largest IT firm, said there are tremendous investment opportunities beyond computers and high-tech areas. Ideas from rural areas need to be encouraged and the urban poor need the right handholding, mentoring and capital to grow.

“I find youngsters want to do all kinds of things. There are people who want to create wealth by booking tickets. There are people who are creating wealth by enhancing the efficiency of production lines. There are people who are creating wealth by providing efficient, decent and cost-effective means for the corporate world. They all have great ideas,” he said.

He could help some of them become entrepreneurs with his fund, Mr Murthy said, while declining to elaborate on the corpus of the fund or whether he would have any partners in the proposed venture. Mr Murthy, who is not involved in the day-to-day affairs of Infosys, will join a list of technology entrepreneurs who have turned venture capitalists. Murthy’s friend and Wipro chairman Azim Premji has a VC arm called Premji Invest.

Says Gita Dang, CEO of executive search firm Talent Advisory Services, “For lot of entrepreneurs, it’s seen as the right thing to do. And, why not? They have the experience, understanding, mentoring ability and money to make a difference.”

Mr Murthy’s long time associate and co-founder of Infosys, NS Raghavan, who quit the firm as joint MD, now runs Nadathur Investments. He has invested in about a dozen firms including ace-spinner Anil Kumble’s venture called Stump Vision.

Globally, the list of entrepreneur-turned-promoters include Indian born co-founder of Sun Microsystems, Vinod Khosla, and eBay founder and internet billionaire Pierre Omidyar.

Fielding question on his plans for the next generation, Mr Murthy did not rule out the possibility of his son Rohan and daughter Akshata joining Infosys at some point, but said, “Ideally they may want to run their own marathon as today Infosys has reached a certain level where opportunities or rather rewards of being an entrepreneur are much less.”

The proud father said his daughter is an MBA from Stanford and son is doing his PhD at Harvard. “Both, by any standards, have done well for themselves. We don’t have any employee in the company today with those kind of credentials,” he said.

The Infosys chairman also did not rule out acquisitions. Infosys is sitting on a cash pile of $2 billion. On the future of Infosys, he said that while the portfolio of services could change, the challenge will be to ensure that revenue growth momentum and net margins are maintained.

Mr Murthy hopes that the Indian economy in general and the IT sector in particular would stage a turnaround by March 2010 after a tough 2009. By then, he would have made significant moves in his latest role, what with youngsters beaming with new ideas waiting for attention.

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