Around forty six years ago, an advertisement for recruitment of engineers to the noted automobile company TELCO (present day Tata Motors) appeared on the notice board of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. The company was looking for young and hard working engineers who had excellent academic background as well. However, there was an interesting tag line in that advertisement which stated, ‘Women candidates need not apply’.
This small statement drew the attention of a young woman who was studying for her master’s degree in the institute. The woman, who had always come top in her class in all the subjects, couldn’t ignore the gender discrimination that was ‘advertised’ on the notice board. She wrote a note, expressing her protest in strong words, on a post card to none other than the legendary JRD Tata. The woman who had already won a prestigious scholarship to continue her studies in the United States of America hardly had any intention to land a job in India. But, within 10 days of sending her note of protest, she received a telegram from the TELCO. She was invited for an interview at Pune. The company had even offered to bear her travel and other expenses as well. Though it was an unexpected offer, she accepted it and appeared for the interview. The company, meanwhile, had no other way than to recruit the prodigious talent who had passed the graduation and post graduation courses with gold medals. Sudha Murthy, the woman who dared to voice her opinion in a postcard and was not ready to give up on her dreams, thus became the first woman engineer at TELCO.
The letter and the job at Pune proved to be a turning point in young Sudha’s life. There, she met a young man, who was incredibly intelligent and soon married him. Later, it was the same woman who handed over Rs 10,000 to her husband to start his own software company. Her husband had unique ideas and was willing to work hard to fulfil his dreams. But, he had struggled to begin his startup company due to financial difficulties. Sudha stood as his pillar of support and took it upon herself to run the family.
Sudha Murthy, the wife of Infosys founder NR Narayana Murthy, is now known as the backbone of the Infosys foundation, a non-profit organization that supports the underprivileged sections of the society. Moreover, she is a well known author whose books in Kannada and English have been best-sellers.
Sudha Murthy has not just been the strongest source of support for her husband to build the software empire. In the initial days, she worked as a clerk, secretary, office assistant, programmer and even a cook to help the firm grow. Later, when Narayana Murthy insisted that only one of them was required at Infosys, Sudha withdrew silently. But, when she began the Infosys foundation in 1997, she was determined to turn philanthropy into an art and a profession as well.
“No one owns money; you are just the trustee of it. Money keeps changing hands. If you succeed in life, try to return it to the society that has been kind to you,” these words of advice given by JRD Tata, when Sudha left TELCO to help her husband build Infosys, had always motivated and inspired her.
Hundreds of projects including hospitals, orphanages, rehabilitation centres, schools, science centres and libraries are supported by the Infosys foundation. The foundation has been able to touch the lives of thousands of people in states like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Chandigarh and Maharashtra. The country has honoured Sudha Murthy and her valuable services to the society by conferring many prestigious awards including the Padma Shri.