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Infosys CEO and cofounder, Nandan Nilekani, and Infosys Consulting CEO, Stephen Pratt, speak to Chicago GSB students at a fireside chat on March 28.

How Infosys Rode the Wave

When software giant Infosys was launched in India in 1981, “it was generally not a great place to do business,” said CEO and cofounder Nandan Nilekani. “Until 1991, when the Indian economy opened up, we grew at a slow pace. We didn’t have venture capitalists or private equity, and we had to bootstrap our way through the game.”

Infosys stayed the course and wound up not only riding the wave of the high-tech boom, but the start of globalization. “During our first 12 years, our revenue grew from zero to $4 million. Over the next six years, it went from $4 million to $121 million. The next five years, we grew to $1 billion, and in the next two years, it’s doubled to $2 billion,” Nilekani told students assembled for a fireside chat with him and Infosys Consulting CEO Stephen Pratt at the Hyde Park Center March 28.

“It happened because we represented the cusp of a wave of change,” Nilekani said. “Globalization was happening. Technology like fiber optics created the foundation for us to work on these global problems while sitting in India. Infosys was the right company at the right place. It’s really symbolic of how things have changed, how global work is getting redistributed.”

Anticipating foreign visitors, Infosys built a campus outside Bangalore, the first built in India. By the late 1990s, being a global player meant getting access to the U.S. capital markets, so Infosys became the first Indian company to list on the NASDAQ, Nilekani said. “In March 1999, we went public—a beachhead on the western capital market.”

The firm also heralded the birth of Indian entrepreneurship. “Before we came on the scene, India had multinational companies, public sector companies, and family-owned companies. We brought in the new paradigm—first-generation entrepreneurs who were not related to each other and didn’t share the same language or background, who came together as professionals and created a first-generation company. Before that, people thought you had to be born in the right family to be in business. We demolished that notion and democratized entrepreneurship.”

Pratt said opposition to globalization is dead. “I think the debate’s largely over. Most companies realize it makes them more competitive and that they can hire more people if they embrace the world workforce.”

Patricia Houlihan