Nandan Mohanrao Nilekani, a renowned Indian entrepreneur and visionary, has left an indelible mark on the landscape of technology, bureaucracy, and philanthropy in India.
His journey, filled with remarkable achievements and contributions, is a testament to his dedication and innovation.
Born on June 2, 1955, in Bangalore, Nandan Nilekani's early life was deeply influenced by his parents, Durga and Mohan Rao Nilekani, who originally hailed from Sirsi in Karnataka.
His father's commitment to Fabian Socialist ideals shaped Nilekani's values from a young age.
Nilekani's educational journey commenced at prestigious institutions such as Bishop Cotton Boys' School, St. Joseph's High School in Dharwad, and Karnataka PU College in Dharwad.
He pursued his passion for technology and engineering, earning a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the esteemed Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT Bombay).
In 1978, Nandan Nilekani embarked on his professional journey at the Mumbai-based Patni Computer Systems. It was during this time that he had a fateful encounter with N.R. Narayana Murthy, a meeting that would eventually lead to the founding of one of India's IT giants.
In 1981, Nilekani, along with Narayana Murthy and five others, took a bold step to start their own company, Infosys. Nilekani's ascent within Infosys was swift and impressive.
He held various positions, including managing director, president, and chief operating officer, before becoming the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in March 2002.
During his five-year tenure as CEO, Nilekani oversaw Infosys' meteoric rise, with its revenue growing sixfold to reach a staggering $3 billion.
However, his journey at Infosys took another significant turn in 2017 when he returned to the company as Chairman after the departure of CEO Vishal Sikka.
Nilekani's leadership was marked by a shift in the company's power centre from California back to its headquarters in Bengaluru.
Nandan Nilekani's transition from the corporate world to public service was a pivotal moment in his career.
In July 2009, he accepted the role of Chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), a cabinet-ranking position he assumed at the invitation of Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh.
As the head of UIDAI, Nilekani was tasked with implementing the ambitious Multipurpose National Identity Card, popularly known as the Aadhaar project.
This groundbreaking initiative aimed to provide every Indian resident with a unique identification number, serving as the foundation for efficient welfare service delivery.
Aadhaar's unique biometric identification system garnered both praise and criticism. While it earned accolades as "the most sophisticated ID program in the world" by the World Bank Chief Economist Paul Romer, it also faced scrutiny for potential privacy and data security concerns.
Nandan Nilekani's contributions extended beyond technology and bureaucracy.
He became a member of several prestigious boards, including the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), and assumed the role of President at the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), India's premier economic research think tank.
Nilekani's influence reached global platforms as well. He appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to promote his book "Imagining India: The Idea of a Renewed Nation" and delivered a TED talk in 2009, sharing his visionary ideas for India's future.
In 2014, Nilekani briefly entered the political arena by joining the Indian National Congress and contesting the Bangalore South constituency in the Lok Sabha election.
Although he didn't secure victory, his candidacy drew attention due to his significant wealth, making him one of the richest candidates in the 2014 elections.
Nandan Nilekani's commitment to philanthropy is exemplified by his and his wife Rohini's decision to donate 50 per cent of their wealth to the Giving Pledge, a movement organised by Bill Gates.
Their motivation is rooted in addressing the growing global inequality and securing a brighter future for the youth.
Nilekani's philanthropic efforts also include contributions to rebuilding the hostel campus of IIT Bombay and the establishment of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, focusing on solving urban challenges in India.
In addition to philanthropy, Nilekani is a serial investor, supporting approximately 12 startups, including ShopX, Juggernaut, Tracxn, and TravelTriangle.
Nandan Nilekani is married to Rohini Nilekani, and they have two children, Nihar and Janhavi. Fluent in multiple languages, including Konkani, Kannada, English, Marathi, and Hindi, Nilekani's diverse background reflects India's rich cultural tapestry.
Throughout his illustrious career, Nilekani has received numerous accolades and honours, including honorary degrees, awards, and recognition from esteemed institutions like the University of Toronto, Time magazine, Forbes Asia, and India Today.
Nandan Nilekani's remarkable journey from co-founding Infosys to leading groundbreaking initiatives and contributing to philanthropy, serves as an inspiration, showcasing the profound impact one individual can have on technology, society, and the future of a nation.