Kris Gopalakrishnan, CEO and managing director of Infosys Technologies, reconnects with the city, as Nita Sathyendran listens
Perhaps it is the sights and sounds of the Kerala or perhaps it is because of being back in familiar territory, that the famously reticent Senapathy ‘Kris' Gopalakrishnan, chief executive officer and managing director of Infosys Technologies, also one of the seven founders of the IT giant and a native of the city, gets uncharacteristically candid when he opens up about living the dream. “Yes. I am an introvert. It is my best and worst quality as an individual. Being an introvert, I feel, keeps me grounded,” says Kris, with a hint of a smile on his face.
Now that's mighty strange coming from a man who runs a multi-national, multi-billion dollar corporation and is worth a cool billion or so himself, someone who hobnobs with the likes of Microsoft's Bill Gates, who loves to pick the brains of his friend Tom (that's Pulitzer prize winning author of The World Is Flat and New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman) over dinner, and who probably has the direct line of the Prime Minister and the entire Cabinet on speed dial on his swanky iPhone, isn't it?
[Laughs] “Well, it comes with the job. It was a conscious decision on my part to take on such a high profile job. You have to understand what the role requires of you and you have to make the changes required even if it is to your life or your personality. You may not be a natural at your job but at least you have the satisfaction that you are trying your hardest,” clarifies Kris. He adds that whilst growing up in the city or rather for the first 20 years of his life, running a company, let alone one on the scale of Infosys, was never his intention. Instead, Kris once dreamt of becoming a doctor.
“My father, P.G. Senapathy, a small-time businessman, wanted me to become a doctor, for there were no doctors in my extended family. Besides it was something I was always passionate about,” says Kris with a shrug. And he would well have gone on to become a doctor had he scored but two more marks in his final exams at the Government Arts College, which would have qualified him for a medical seat.
“That episode was a devastating experience. It was as if I grew up overnight and began to take life more seriously. My family was not wealthy so buying a medical seat was out of the question. I realised that I had to move on and try something different,” adds the technocrat. For Kris ‘moving on' meant a degree in physics at the University College. “Physics made sense because like Aamir Khan's character in 3 Idiots, I was always fiddling with experiments,” explains Kris.
He passed the course with the flying colours (the fifth rank in the University of Kerala to be precise) and then went on to a masters at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras, before skyrocketing to fame and fortune with Infosys. “IIT was the turning point in my life because it gave me the confidence to move on and to compete with the best in the world. You also got exposed to a world-class curriculum and world-class teachers. Admittedly the transition from University College, where people mostly spoke Malayalam, to the rarefied atmosphere in IIT was difficult. But I was a quick learner!” laughs Kris, adding that his “one vice is being a big time gadget enthusiast,” changing or upgrading his mobile, PDAs, iPods and computers very month or so.
Ride of a lifetime
On the ride of his life, jet-setting the world at least 200 days of the year, he may be, but the 53-year-old insists that he remains at heart “a small town guy brought up with solid middle class values,” says Kris, as he goes on to recall the many (mis)adventures in the “wonderful period” (reiterated many times) while living in the city.
He recounts how he used to walk to Model School (his alma mater) everyday from his home in Puthenchanta; how racing down the steep roads near the school on his brand new bicycle was a thrill; how he set up a class library with donated books, which, he says, made him realise his organisational capabilities; how he got caught trying to scale the wall of the Old Secretariat in an effort to get into the Central Stadium; sneaking off to the movies and of course the hours and hours spent playing cricket – something that he still adores, especially watching Sachin Tendulkar play.
“Despite the obvious changes and the increased traffic, Kerala, in general, and the city in particular manages to retain a small-town charm. It sure is nice to reach your office in 15 minutes flat! It makes the Malayali in me want to come back again and again.”
Although Kris lives in Bangalore with his wife, Sudha (who hails from Thodapuzha), and school-going daughter, Meghna, he keeps alive his Kerala connection through the Pratiksha Trust. The trust gives scholarships to medical and engineering students via the Ramakrishna Mission and also provides a monthly pension to 40 senior citizens in the city. “If you want to impact another person give them access to education,” says Kris.