After Vishal Sikka’s dramatic exit from India’s second-largest IT conglomerate, Infosys in August 2017, markets were enthused by Nandan Nilekani’s return to the fold. Having joined Infosys at 26, his return at age 62 was a case of life coming full circle.
Co-founder and Non-Executive Chairman of Infosys, Nilekani served as the CEO from 2002 to 2007 and as President and MD at Infosys. He also helmed the Unique Identification Authority of India—the world’s largest biometric identification system, from June 2009 to March 2014. Following his resignation, he contested general elections on a ticket by the Indian National Congress from Bangalore South.
Born on June 2, 1955 in Sirsi, Karnataka, Nilekani underwent frequent relocations in his childhood, which was what initially sparked the flame of ingenuity and entrepreneurship in him. After finishing his schooling, he moved on to the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai for a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.
After graduation, Nilekani joined the Mumbai-based Patni Computer Systems in 1978 under N R Narayana Murthy. After learning the tricks of the trade, he, along with Murthy and five others, branched out to form their own venture and thus, Infosys was born. Set up with an initial capital of about Rs. 10,000, the conglomerate’s revenue has grown to a staggering $10.9 billion today.
After Nilekani succeeded Murthy as CEO in 2002, the company’s fortunes saw an astronomical growth. By the end of his tenure in 2007, Infosys’s market cap had skyrocketed 367% to Rs. 115,307 crore.
In 2005, the exemplary entrepreneur, along with wife Rohini, founded ‘Arghyam’, a charitable foundation for managing groundwater and sanitation projects in India. In 2014, the couple also set up ‘Ekstep’, a non-profit organisation that provides a learning platform for all children.
Big on philanthropic ventures, the couple pledged to give away 50% of their $1.7 billion wealth to charity. With a stubborn determination to leave his mark in society by making a significant difference, Nilekani once shared, “I am simply a person who wants to make a difference and I take the roles that help me achieve that.”
His stellar achievements, industry goodwill and philanthropic ventures found him a spot in Time magazine’s ‘100 most influential people in the world’ list, both in 2006 and 2009. He was also awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2006, India’s third-highest civilian award.
A leader par excellence coming from a humble background, Nilekani serves as an inspiration to all budding entrepreneurs who are truly looking to make a difference.