It can often be hard to predict job performance in interviews — candidates can often perform much better or worse than their interviews suggest — but one of India’s best-known entrepreneurs had got things eerily right 40 years ago.
Infosys founder Narayan Murthy has revealed that co-founder Nandan Nikekani had scored the highest marks he’d ever seen in a test that he gave to new hires. In the late 1970s, Murthy was about to leave his job at Patni Computer Systems, and was looking for people to build what would eventually become Infosys. That was when he came across a candidate named Nandan Nilekani.
“When I was the head of software at PCS (Patni Computer Systems), I had started this learnability test,” Murthy revealed in an interview. “I defined learnability as the ability to extract generic inferences out of specific instances, and using them to solve new unstructured problems. That’s basically intelligence,” he continued.
“Nandan walked into my room at PCS on 18th February 1979. He said ‘I want a job'”,” Murthy says. Nandan Nilekani told him that he had written his GMAT and wanted to the go to business school, but could work with him for a few months.
Most people would’ve baulked at a candidate who only wanted to work at a job for a few months, but Murthy thought differently. “I had a principle. It is better to have an intelligent man with you, no matter how short that period is, because that intelligence will add tremendous value,” Murthy says.
Murthy then decided to give the young Nandan Nikekani his “tough learnability test”. As luck would have it, Nandan aced the test. “Of all the people that I gave the test, he’s the only one who got 50 out of 50. That’s a fact,” Murthy remembers.
“But I was not satisfied with that,” Murthy laughs. “I have this principle — the reward for winning the semi-finals is to get to play a tougher game which is the finals,” he says. Murthy then gave Nilekani another test. “I had developed an IQ test called Matrix rotation which is a very interesting test,” he says. “The reasonably intelligent people took about five minutes to finish the test, and the really intelligent people did it in about a minute and a half. Nandan did it in a minute and a half,” he remembers.
Murthy ended up hiring Nilekani, and the rest is history. Along with him and six other co-founders, Infosys became an IT powerhouse, and, in many ways, ended up creating the Indian IT industry as we know it. Narayan Murthy and Nandan Nilekani did pretty well for themselves as well– both became billionaires, and are amongst the richest people in India. Nandan Nilekani would also go on to work on projects like Aadhar and India Stack, which is helping India leap ahead of even developed nations in terms of its digital infrastructure. And all this early promise was spotted by Narayan Murthy when he’d aced two of his intelligence tests, 40 years ago.