Before there was Infosys and Narayana Murthy, there was the legendary Patni Computer Systems (PCS) and Narendra Kumar Patni, —the pioneer of Indian software outsourcing, industry icon and father figure and role model to all the other Indian IT luminaries that followed. Patni passed away on Tuesday in Boston, Massachusetts of a heart attack. He was 71 years of age.
After finishing his undergraduate degree at the Rorkee Engineering College (now IIT-Roorkee) Patni continued studying engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he also did a business degree at Sloan School of Management. Long before anyone thought of India as a destination for outsourced software services, Patni and his wife Poonam set up shop in a small apartment in the US before opening up offices in Pune.
Soon after, in 1978, Patni Computer Systems (PCS) was born. It was started by Patni and his brothers Ashok and Gajendra. The company first started selling Data General’s mini-computers but soon Patni hired a young man called Narayana Murthy to head up its software division. Murthy inturn hired a few good men—namely S Gopalkrishnan, Nandan Nilekani and a few others. Eventually the entire Patni software team left to form Infosys and the rest as they say is sweet history.
Patni was admired by a wide variety of people. "I worked under Naren when I was head of software at PCS. He was a brilliant leader who brought out the best in all of us. His death is a big loss to all of us, his admirers," said Narayana Murthy. "He was a doyen of the industry in the true sense… when we started Mastek in 1982, the Patni story was a beacon light for us," said Ashank Desai, Founder and Chairman of Mastek.
The reason Patni was liked and respected is because he always honoured whatever he committed himself to. "I have seen Naren interact with customers and the trust factor was extremely high. That was because of the value he attached to his word," said Abhay Havaldar, General Atlantic’s Advisory Director, to the Hindu newspaper.
The last few years were tough for Patni as he saw his beloved firm gobbled up by a much smaller competitor iGate for US$1.2 billion amidst a heated dispute amongst the brothers about whether to sell the firm or not. "He (Narendra Patni) felt immense regret that a smaller company was buying out Patni, because of the circumstances; he wished it was the other way round. Because of the fight between the Patni brothers, he felt he had no choice," said Phaneesh Murthy, former chief executive of Nasdaq-listed iGate, who was instrumental in acquiring PCS—but who was asked to leave following allegations of sexual harassment which he denies. Murthy was a rising star at Infosys and iGate promptly replaced him with another one—former Infosys director Ashok Vemuri—this re-inforcing Patni and Infosys’ intertwining fortunes.
There’s no telling for sure, but a good guess is that selling Patni literally broke the heart of a man who put everything into his baby.