In 1974, Narayana Murthy was a 28-year-old politically left-leaning engineer on his way home to India from France. During his journey on a train, he struck up a conversation with one of the passengers "about the travails of living in an Iron Curtain country." He says: "We were interrupted by some policemen who, I later gathered, were summoned by a young man who thought we were criticizing the Communist government of Bulgaria."
Murthy was dragged out of the train and left in a small room without food or water for 72 hours, then thrown back on another departing train and released in Istanbul. His treatment purged Murthy of any affinity he had for the left and would ultimately help make him one of India's and the world's most successful capitalists. If he was to be a reformer, he realized, it would have to be through a system that was rejected by the Communists.
He proved that India could compete with the world by taking on the software development work that had long been the province of the West. As one of six co-founders of Infosys and the CEO for 21 years, Murthy helped spark the outsourcing revolution that has brought billions of dollars in wealth into the Indian economy and transformed his country into the world's back office.
His important lesson: An organization starting from scratch must coalesce around a team of people with an enduring value system. "It is all about sacrifice today, fulfillment tomorrow," explains Murthy, 65, who is now chairman emeritus. "It is all about sacrifice, hard work, lots of frustration, being away from your family, in the hope that someday you will get adequate returns from that."
Their impact may not be as deep at that of our contenders, but these five innovators still stand in a class of their own.
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