Over a year after he quit as chief executive of Infosys, Nandan Mohan Nilekani, 53, is putting in place the final touches to his next career move that could see him morph into one of the country’s most respected think tanks on everything from IT to infrastructure. That doesn’t mean that Nilekani, who started Infosys with six others back in 1981, is letting go of the reins just yet. The electrical engineer from IIT, Mumbai spent a month in Europe trying to put through Infosys’ transaction to buy enterprise solutions vendor Axon and continues to work closely on the biggest deals for the company.
At the same time, Nilekani, who’s just released his first book—Imagining India: Ideas for the New Century—a 531-page tome published by Penguin on the ideas that shaped and will shape India—is a much sought-after thought leader in a variety of fields. At his office in Infosys’s 80-acre headquarters, it is not just Infoscions waiting for time with their Co-Chairman. For Thomas Freidman, the celebrated author of The World is Flat, it is the sheer heterogeneity of people looking for an audience with him that catches the eye. “If you sit outside his office for a day, you notice that half the people going in are employees looking for instructions or customers looking for deals; the other half are politicians, journalists and ministers from around the world looking for an explanation of what it all means,” he had written in Time magazine. “I spend around 15-20 per cent of my time on structured and unstructured mentoring programmes at Infosys,” Nilekani told BT recently.
Expectedly, it is execution of lofty ideas that is central to Nilekani’s postulate on India. Rather than dreaming up more great ideas, we need to focus on how to execute some of them, he argues. Both within and outside Infosys, he has not shied away from getting his hands dirty with the nitty-gritty. For example, Nilekani was one of the prime movers behind the Bangalore Agenda Task Force, a public-private partnership focussed on improving Bangalore’s crumbling infrastructure, and he spent Rs 5 crore of his own funds to support it. His book-writing, too, got the same attention to detail; the geek in Nilekani surfaced when he split up his job into several smaller pieces. One of the youngest leaders on the World Economic Forum’s Foundation Board, the Joseph Schumpeter prize winner has a multitude of other roles—President of NCAER, Board member of ICRIER, National Knowledge Commission Member—that should keep him busy for years to come.