When Narayana Murthy Had To Sleep On A Box In A Storeroom

Narayana Murthy is now now worth $5 billion, and is one of India’s most celebrated entrepreneurs, but he had to do the hard grind when he was still building Infosys.

Narayana Murthy once had to sleep on a box in a storeroom while courting a client, a new book has revealed. Titled “An Uncommon Love: The Early Life of Sudha and Narayana Murthy,” the book covers the early years of Sudha Murty’s and Narayana Murthy’s lives. The book says that Murthy once had to deal with a temperamental client who made him sleep in a storeroom.

The book names the client as Donn Liles, who headed the New York-based company Data Basics Corporation. “He would often delay payments when he could, and Murthy would then be the target of his ire because he would hold his ground, refusing to budge on timely payment for services,” the book says. “Or Donn would not provide timely authorization for Murthy and his Infosys colleagues to book hotels when they had to visit him in Manhattan,” it adds.

“Once when Murthy visited the US for client work, Donn made him sleep on a large box in the storeroom, surrounded by cartons, though his home had four bedrooms,” the book says.

Murthy says he was shocked by this behaviour, but had to put up with it because Donn was a crucial client, and he needed his business to keep his fledgling company afloat. Murthy was even more shocked at how he had been treated as a guest, given how Indians treat guests with such reverence back home. “My mother used to say that a guest was like God, and the way you treated your guests revealed what kind of person you really were,” he told wife Sudha. “When my father invited someone over without advance notice, she often served the guest her own food and went to sleep without dinner. And here was Donn enjoying a good night’s sleep in his luxurious bed after making me spend the night on a big box in a windowless storeroom,” Murthy said.

But it appears that the incident only seemed to have hardened Murthy’s resolve, and he worked over decades to turn Infosys into the behemoth it now is. Infosys has gone from strength to strength, and now counts dozens of Fortune 500 companies as clients, who presumably don’t make its executives sleep in storerooms.

These weren’t the only travails that Murthy had to endure as he was building Infosys. He had to take a loan from his wife — which was quite taboo back in the day — to start the company. And Nehruvian socialism of the 1980s meant that he once had to spend 3 years and 50 visits to Delhi to import a single computer. But he braved these challenges, and now rides atop the list of the greatest business titans India has ever produced.