S D Shibulal, CEO and MD-designate of Infosys Technologies, is being seen as the harbinger of change at the country’s second-largest IT software export company.
One of the founder members of the 31-year-old company, Shibulal is the last of the co-founders still with the company and to rise to the top post. More importantly, he will take over at a time when Infosys is set for a big change, not only at the strategy level but also in paving the way and grooming the right set of leaders to steer the IT bellwether after 2015. That is the time when Shibulal and the other co-founder, Kris Gopalakrishnan, are expected to retire from all executive roles.
Industry watchers feel, though Shibulal lacks the fire power of his illustrious predecessors — Nandan Nilekani and N R Narayana Murthy — he has been focused on execution, operations and strategy. Arguably the most modest among all Infosys co-founders, Shibulal is known to have a deep sense of commitment to his work and the organisation, the examples of which even Murthy himself does not hesitate in disclosing at public fora.
Murthy recalls the time when Shibulal worked with him at Patni Computer System (PCS) in 1980. Murthy was handling software as well as computer sales at PCS. One day, says Murthy, when he was busy with some important work and was in a very bad mood, Shibulal came to report to him the progress made on a complex and advanced piece of software. After going through the report, he instructed Shibulal not to go home till the work was finished. He forgot about the instruction after that.
Two days later, after dinner with some clients, Murthy thought of returning to the office around 1 am to pick up something he had forgotten.
“As I entered the long corridor, I found somebody in a lungi working at a computer terminal. When I asked the security about him, he said: “This man is very unfortunate as he has got a very bad boss. His boss told him not to go home till he had completed his work. So he has not gone home for 48 hours now.” This is the kind of commitment Shibulal has demonstrated in the past and brought to the organisation,” Murthy recalls.
Even though the possibility of becoming the CEO of the company has been doing the rounds for some time, Shibulal prefers to live with the present and deliver the best out of that. “One should always live in the present. The present is about my role as the COO. The future is left to the nominations committee and the board to decide. I am thrilled that the board is happy with my performance. But you never say never in business,” he told Business Standard in an interview earlier.
An MSc in Physics from the University of Kerala and an MS in Computer Science from the University of Boston, Shibulal shares some of the traits of his colleague and incumbent CEO Gopalakrishnan. Both are from Kerala and their age is almost the same. Both are fond of gadgets. But the COO, who has been busy shaping the future road map of Infosys since 2007, always prefers to maintain a low profile. Only time will say how this backroom boy of the IT biggie, playing his role quietly all these days, will shape the future of the company in the days to come. He has to ensure that Infy stays ahead in the race at a time when competition is getting intense and the gap among the top-three IT exporters is widening fast.