Meticulous millionaire

“As a matter of policy I like to leave at the end of the day with zero email pending. I cannot do this always, but that is the goal,“ he responds.

But he exhibits Geminian traits nevertheless — approachable and reserved at the same time. Nilekani, one of seven Infosys founders, is not a person who will open up at the word go. Nor does he have the habit of looking back and musing about the past. It takes a while to make him unwind.

When that happens, one finds this 47-year-old hasn't forgotten his roots. He always describes himself as a person from small-town Dharwad in Karnataka, though born in Bangalore — and shaped by the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai.

The gawky boy from a small town
Born as the second and last son to Mohan R Nilekani, a manager in Minerva Mills, (Nandan) Nilekani spent his first 12 years in Bangalore. Thanks to his father's transferable job, young Nilekani had to move to his uncle's place in Dharwad for his studies. “That was the first turning point in my life. At 12, I learnt to become independent,“ he reminisces.

Being good at his studies, in 1973 he entered the portals of IIT-M without much of a hassle. “Those were the days when the computer was not known. The only near-option available was electrical engineering. Coming to Mumbai was the second turning point in my life. At that time I was a gawky 18-year-old, from a small town — unused to and unaware of the big sophisticated city. I was in awe of everything around me,“ he recalls.

According to him the lessons that IIT-M taught him, which stand him in good stead today both in his personal and official life, are: meritocracy, the foundation of all successful institutions; the ability to work as part of a team, subsuming individual glory to team achievement; unbiased decision-making based on analysis of data; hard work; and the importance of giving back to the society.