Multitasking: Nilekani's key to success
Indian entrepreneur and businessman Nandan Nilekani is one of the most unusual icons. He believes himself to be an accidental tycoon being at the right time, in the right place and with the right people did the trick for him, he says.
Moneycontrol puts the spotlight on Nilekani Chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India to find out his experience working with bureaucrats instead of his usual set of corporate bigwigs and the challenges he faces in his new role.
Q: You ever thought you would be a tycoon?
A: Not really. I am an accidental tycoon. I just happen to be at the right time in the right place with the right group of people.
Q: Two aspects of the Infosys success story, one is of course it is a brilliantly managed company and you are being modest in saying that right place at the right time. The other one is the sense in which you created shareholder value. Millions of middle class people, lakhs of middle class people bought Infosys shares and they sky rocketed the amount that nobody imagined it was possible at that time. How much of that whole share blizzard aspect to the business matter to you?
A: Well, it was more of a by-product because our goal was to build a great and an admired company. A company that practiced very ethical standards of business conduct, so as a by-product of that if it also creates shareholder value that is a very positive thing. But the fundamental driver was creating a respected and an admired company.
Q: The other thing you have done is public service, how does that begin?
A: That again was very accidental. About ten years back when S M Krishna became the Chief Minister of Karnataka, he invited me to head a body called the Bangalore Agenda Task Force which was my first exposure to public. That time I did not know the difference between the municipal corporation and the development authority. I was ignorant. But five year I did that and he gave great support. We did a lot of things.
Q: What was the exposure like? What did you feel you learnt?
A: It was pretty fascinating because I realised that you could not really just have high technocratic solutions to things. Things were routed in much more deeper issues of politics, social issues, and class issues. Initially, I did look at it as a technocratic challenge, but over time I realised that there were fundamental incentive alignments that had to be changed. So I learnt a lot from that experience. Then subsequently in 2004, some of that input bunch of it was provided into the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission which played a role in that. I was a part of the Knowledge Commission under Sam Pitroda. So, I have been on the sidelines of public policy.
Q: You are happy doing this [UID programme], it plays to your skills etc. But you would not rule out a cabinet role, if it allowed you to be a change agent and played to your sills?
A: This looks like a tricky question to me. Obviously, I cannot reject out of hand. But I just want to say that the other things, for example, the Finance Minister has asked me to look at five big financial projects and formed a technical advisory group. That is what is relevant to me, looking at this large complex problem and trying to untangle them. So thats where I would like to be.
Q: Whats it has been like working in government dealing with politicians, you've had experience with this at a micro level in the state of Karnataka. What has it been like at the national level?
A: Actually, its been terrific, it has been wonderful. I have tremendous respect for Indian politicians. I have said that in my book. They work very hard, they are very committed, they multi-task like anything, and they have to constantly deal with demands of people. So it is pretty impressive when I see them at close quarters.
One of the things that I have learnt is that in government you have to spend a lot more time on consensus building. As part of this project I have gone and met every sort of agency that deals with the issue of identity. I have dealt with every regulator. I have visited all the states and met the chief ministers and chief secretaries and all the top officials.
Q: Whats that been like?
A: It has been a great experience. I have been to parts of India I had never been ever. I was out in the US more than in India before this. So the fact that I went to every corner, I went to Ranchi, Raipur, Patna, Lucknow etc, gave me a first hand sense of what is happening around the place. I have really learnt a lot and I think there is an enormous desire for bringing in change. I think the aspirations of people is creating pressure. So what I am doing can contribute that will be a great thing.