Well, it was almost as if Columbus had rediscovered the Americas. Only, on the eve of 21st century, there was a difference. Instead of a rag tag, fatigue-hit Columbus screaming a possible hurrah on touching American soil, it was the tie clad, scented, suited-booted Indian industrialist who demurely keyed in the first direct listing into the US securities market.
For those assembled at the Bangalore campus of India’s software bigshot, Infosys Technologies Ltd, the electric atmosphere left no doubt that history was in the making. An Indian company was for the first time ever getting directly listed in a US securities exchange. India’s leading information technology company began trading on the Nasdaq under the symbol “INFY”. Until now, no Indian company had crossed the stringent conditions that came in the way of trading in a US stock exchange. Infosys chairman NR Narayana Murthy’s visage came floating on a video screen through an internet link. Present in New York for the momentous occasion, he likened the event to Armstrong stepping on the moon. Twisting Armstrong’s famous line a little, Murthy said it was “a small step for Nasdaq hut a giant leap for the Indian industry”.
As Infosys’s listing was officially announced by a Nasdaq functionary, the 3,000-odd employees of the company waiting with bated breath at the campus erupted into spontaneous applause. Nasdaq president John T Wall’s comment that the “atmosphere was truly electrifying” was an understatement. Some went wild, fire crackers rent the air and colourful rocket-bombs spewed showers of exquisite flames on a near delirious crowd.
History was made. Nasscom chief Dewang Mehta, who was in New York, burst out saying, “You guys have done it”. For the unassuming chairman of Infosys, it was a “dream come true” almost a fairytale in which the protagonist crosses the seven seas and the almost insurmountable mountains to reach the other end of the rainbow.
Started in 1981 when seven Indians sat huddled in a dingy Bombay room with “lots of dreams, lots of enthusiasm, and lots of ideas but severely short of cash” in Murthy’s words, Infosys has come a long way.
Infosys managing director Nandan Nilekani was more sombre in the hour of joy. “We are the first to cut through all precedents. In the eye of the world now, we have had to understand a whole lot of issues. We are at the end of a long and arduous process it’s our own tryst with destiny,” he said matter-of-factly.
What makes the event historic is the direct presence of an Indian company in the US securities market. More importantly, it means that Infosys has been found acceptable to trade in the “mecca of global capitalism”. This implies that Infosys satisfies the stringent financial, capitalisation and corporate governance standards that is expected of a company listed in Nasdaq.
Infosys will now rub shoulders with global hi-tech giants Apple, Intel, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, Oracle, Netscape and what have you. Nasdaq, a state-of-the-art competitor to the more traditional New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), is capable of trading more than one billion shares a day and its transparent working system is mind-boggling.
Infosys opened on Nasdaq to dream trading. While the company offered 1,800,000 American depository receipts (ADRs) representing 900,000 equity shares at US $34 per ADR, it quickly climbed to $37 before touching $41. Within half an hour, it traded half a million shares, Infosys officials said.
Meanwhile, a host of Indian companies are waiting to see the outcome of the “historic” event before deciding whether to join Nasdaq. BPL almost got through but backed out due to pricing problems.
Others on the sideline are HCL, NIIT, Wipro, Zee Telefilms, Ranbaxy and Satyam Computers. Dewang Mehta feels there will be at least 10 more desi companies in a year and possibly 100 in another five years, an Indian invasion is truly on the cards.