Nandan Nilekani is a leader who has worn several hats though his illustrious career. He was part of the founding team at Infosys and held several leadership roles with the company including being the CEO and Co-Chairman. In 2009, he moved from Infosys to serve as the Chairman of UIDAI and in the five years there, enrolled about two thirds of the country. He subsequently contested the 2014 Lok Sabha election and post that has moved onto a portfolio of initiatives that includes his work with EkStep Foundation and other philanthropic initiatives, India Stack evangelisation and working with start-ups.
This conversation was published around June 2017.
Nandan talks about how he organizes his time currently and more importantly, the design principle behind how he prioritizes his time. He also talks about his journey through Infosys and Aadhaar to the current portfolio of initiatives that includes India Stack evangelization, EkStep, Philanthropy and investing in & mentoring select start-ups.
The first few years often shape a big part of who we are. Nandan talks about the significance of having spent 6 years in a small town in shaping his independence and cultural adaptability. He also refers to the role of his family in terms of shaping his choices around social service.
Nandan talks about one of the seminal choices that entrepreneurs often have to make - Selecting a Co-Founder. He provides his thoughts around what they should bear in mind in this process. He also talks about what it takes to make the relationship work over a prolonged period of time.
As an entrepreneur, staying relevant as the company goes through turbo-charged growth can be a challenge. Nandan talks about how he had to reinvent himself and his style at various points as Infosys grew from a start up to IPO, to listing on the NASDAQ and when it hit USD 1 Billion in revenues.
Leadership Transitions can be a period of significant anxiety for several executives who are transitioning across contexts and domains. Nandan shares his insights around what he kept and what he changed when he transitioned across 3 dimensions when he moved from Infosys to UIDAI. He also talks about the power of commitment in such situations.
In a start-up, how do you think about setting a goal post? It is a tricky question when there are several unknown unknowns. Nandan talks about how he thought about "What good would look like" in 5 years for the Aadhaar project.
Nandan talks about how the Government is fundamentally different from the Private sector in terms of how financial and human capital decisions are made. He talks about he thought about navigating those constraints to drive to the outcomes he had committed. He also talks about a couple of mistakes leaders often make in transitions.
All of us have had situations where we step way out of our comfort zone. Nandan talks about his experience from contesting the elections in Bangalore and why he moved on from Politics after that experience.
Given the VUCA world we live in, re-inventing oneself every now and then has become a necessity. Nandan talks about the mindset with which he has approached the various transitions he has had in his career and shares his perspective on what it takes for people to play to their potential.