Not too long ago, Infosys' founder, N R Narayana Murthy, suggsted India's youth to commit to a 70-hour workweek for the country's progress. Yet, this suggestion triggered a considerable backlash, drawing criticism from many. While some leaders supported Murthy's idea, others lamented continued reliance on time spent at the desk or on laptops to measure productivity.
Adding fuel to the fire, experts engaged in discussions on employee mental health and the elusive work-life balance. This paradigm of the 70-hour workweek didn't quite sit well with everyone. On the other hand, some senior leaders believed the situation was being blown out of proportion, a sentiment seemingly validated by Murthy during his recent interview with CNBC-TV18, where he, alongside his wife Sudha Murty, confronted the controversy head-on.
What did Murthy say?
Murthy is renowned as one of India's most diligent leaders, dedicating his life to the country's advancement, particularly through technology. Even after achieving success, Murthy continued to invest extra hours and effort into his work. Some may argue this is a personal choice, but Mr Murthy provided a fitting response, emphasising why it should be our individual decision to strive harder and contribute to our country's success.
In India, farmers routinely put in 10–14 hours daily, totalling 70 or more hours per week. This figure is expected to rise with the growing population and demand. Farmers frequently endure long work hours, particularly during planting and harvesting periods.
Mr Murthy made comparisons between the diligent farmers and factory workers in India and the educated youth. He proposed that those who have received subsidised education should feel a responsibility to work "extremely hard" for their less privileged fellow citizens. His perspective is that this level of commitment is essential for India to compete effectively with global economic powers like China.
"I rationalised it this way. If anybody that has performed much better than me in their own field, not necessarily in my field, I would respect, I would call them, and I would say, where do you think I was wrong in saying this? But I didn't find. A lot of my western friends, a lot of NRIs, a lot of good people in India called me, and without exception, they were all very happy,” Murthy said during the interview.
In Infosys' early days, founded in 1981, Murthy regularly worked 85-90 hours a week, as the company operated six days a week until 1994. He regards this demanding schedule as fundamental to his success and the transformation of Infosys into a global IT leader.
"The issue is that we have to work hard in this country because the poor farmer works very hard. You know, the poor factory worker works very hard. So, therefore, those of us who received education at a huge discount, thanks to the subsidy from the government for all these education, owe it to the less fortunate citizens of India to work extremely hard,” Murthy said.
Sudha Murthy contributed by sharing that her father, from a family of doctors, used to work over 70 hours a week. Narayana Murthy recalled his routine, leaving home at 6 am and returning at 9 pm.
The discussion about the "70-hour week" began during a conversation with former Infosys CFO Mohandas Pai. Murthy pointed out India's low work productivity, comparing it to countries like China, Japan, and Germany that fostered post-World War II recoveries through extensive working hours and commitment.
Despite facing criticism, Murthy maintains his stance that heightened productivity and dedicated work are indispensable for India's advancement.
When Murthy slept on box in storeroom
During his time in the US working on a client project for Infosys, a young Narayana Murthy found himself compelled to sleep on a large box in a windowless storeroom—a revelation surfaced in a new book titled "An Uncommon Love: The Early Life of Sudha and Narayana Murthy" by Indian-American author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, published by Juggernaut Books.
This biography delves into the formative years of the couple, shedding light on their journey—right from the founding days of Infosys to their courtship, marriage, and parenthood. The book narrates instances when Donn Liles, then overseeing the New York-based Data Basics Corporation, displayed unpleasant behavior toward Murthy.
According to the book, Liles often delayed payments intentionally, causing frustration for Murthy, who remained resolute in demanding timely payment for services rendered. At times, Liles also withheld authorisation for Murthy and his Infosys colleagues to book hotels during their visits to Manhattan.
On one such visit, Murthy was made to sleep on a large box in a storeroom, surrounded by cartons, despite Liles having a home with four bedrooms. Murthy was further burdened with managing Liles' abrupt demands for resources.
Enduring Liles' behaviour for the sake of his budding company, the incident involving the box was particularly shocking for Murthy. He reminisced about his mother's belief that treating guests with respect reflected one's character. This contrasted sharply with Liles' actions, leaving Murthy's wife Sudha deeply upset.
Reflecting on the incident, Murthy expressed his astonishment at Liles enjoying a comfortable night's sleep in his luxurious bed after subjecting him to sleep on a big box in a windowless storeroom—leaving Sudha furious.