Sunday, October 31, 2010


Narayan Murthy, Infosys founder are available for comments on various topics. He does not shy away for making his views known. His take on two topics are reproduced below. One is close to his field of interest, where his expertize lies. The other is little far. And the difference is palpable. First excerpts from his interview appearing in today's Economic Times.

On another note, one of the US Senators referred to the Indian IT companies as ‘chop shops’. Did the remark dismay you?
If somebody who knew what we were doing or had an industry view or were a respected analyst, we would be worried. But somebody who has no idea what this industry is all about and the kind of infrastructure we have built here and in 70 other countries, makes such a statement, we should be charitable to such a person. All of us, when we get older, tend to do
things that are not the best. Once in a while our logic lapses, our memory lapses, we tend to say things we don’t mean. So I’d say let us look at it in that spirit.

Next is his observation on Science & Technology in India that appeared on The Hindu, dated 28th October.

Industry finances about 75 per cent of the R&D in Korea and Japan, 70 per cent in China and 65 per cent in the U.S. In India, by contrast, the government finances more than 80 per cent of our R&D expenditure. In a recent report, the Science Advisory Council to the Prime Minister noted: “Except in sectors like pharmaceuticals and drugs, our industry does not appear to be making major investments in and demands on Indian science.” Shouldn't Indian industry, especially the high-technology sectors, be doing more to create and drive domestic R&D?

I think it works both ways. While the Indian industry has to show more interest in collaborating with the Indian academic community, it is necessary for the Indian academic community to show more interest in working with industry. Let me give you a very simple example. Every year, I receive a number of visitors from several International universities like Cornell University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Cambridge, University of Michigan, etc, etc. The professors from these universities are so keen on solving our problems. I would be very happy to also receive professors from our own institutions like the Indian Institute of Science, the IITs, and others. Our academicians must be interested in solving our problems.

Many multi-nationals have established R&D facilities in India. Do you think India's Information Technology industry is doing enough by way of creating R&D capabilities for itself?

We at Infosys have our software engineering and technology laboratories where there are 600 people working on issues that are relevant to our needs. So those are huge research laboratories. I think there are other companies too, which have such things. So therefore the answer is yes.

The best students will always go to where they get the best jobs and pay, and that is to be found in industry these days. A research career on the other hand, means protracted training and less remuneration. So how does one make such a career attractive to young people?

I have suggested several times to various institutions that for every paper that is produced in a world-class refereed journal, they could give Rs. four lakh. So that if you produce four papers in a year, then you have got Rs. 16 lakh. Add to that a salary of Rs. six or eight lakh a year, then you have got a decent sum.

Does anybody see a connection between these two interviews? There are few comments by academicians on the later in a blog maintained by an IISc Professor . Excerpts from that.

1. "Where do the institutions get the money to give 4 lakhs per paper?..What happens when industry hikes the salary to put the 4 lakhs/paper money to shame?...Scientific research is not a money-making enterprise. It is high time people realize that. If they dont, I doubt whether they would really have the patience to spend years on researching something that might or might not throw up cool results. The type of folks who cant see beyond the $$ cant bet a scientist - they are more suited to be a manager and deserve to be in the industry....IMHO, the other benefits of an academic life are equally, if not more important than the $$$ - freedom to choose research topics, get adequate research funding, access to quality research facilities, all the while earning an amount that lets us life comfortably (and given the campus housing, one doesnt even need to think beyond the 6-8 lakhs of basic salary). Long time back, I recall a professor telling me "The difference between the industry and the academic payscale is the amount of money you are willing to pay for your freedom". This is something anyone wanting to come to academics will do well to keep in mind. There is a price to be paid for everything."

2. "Mr Narayana Murthy seems to be the typical Indian businessman: he thinks throwing money is enough to solve any problem. I am disappointed....But the first question really is -- do we need more scientists at our existing research institutions? I think not. What we need is more and better universities. And, of course, scientists to fund those universities -- but we need to make our universities attractive places for a career in science (and humanities and other fields). Perhaps Mr Narayana Murthy has thought about throwing money at that problem?"

3. "The views of Narayan Murthy are hardly surprising. He has always been fairly trivial, particularly with regard to education, science and research. For them everything boils down to money. Just because you started a successful outsourcing company does not mean you have the wisdom to know how to encourage research...BTW by his prescription (and to make it slightly ridiculous) Einstein's paper, say on special relativity, and say any one of my papers, say in Physical Review D would get Rs 4 lakhs each. How nice...didn't know my papers had equal value. And poor Mr Einstein would finally end up with fewer lakhs than many of our local scientists who are paper producing factories."

Strong words. From what he said in today's paper, we may find Murthy worrying about these comments and soon we shall have something from him in another interview. Till then ...

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