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N R Narayana Murthy, co-founder of iconic information technology (IT) exporter Infosys, has been an inspiration to generations. He tells youngsters: "In God we trust. Everybody else brings data to the table."
Son of a schoolteacher, he never gives up on these lessons. The tussle between the founders and the board of the IT exporter that saw chief executive Vishal Sikka resign on Friday might have its seed in Murthy's trust in data over any individual.
"The board (of directors) is profoundly distressed by the unfounded personal attacks on the members of our management team that were made in anonymous letters and have surfaced in recent months," said the company. "As the board has previously stated, a series of careful investigations found no merit to the unsubstantiated and anonymous allegations that had been asserted. The board denounces the critics who have amplified and sought to further promote demonstrably false allegations which have harmed employee morale and contributed to the loss of the company's valued CEO."
The statement has not really helped investors who have been demanding pointed rebuttals of a whistle-blower's detailed allegations of impropriety in a $200-million acquisition of Israeli automation-tech specialist Panaya in 2015. Murthy is the co-founder who is blamed for the "continuous drumbeat of distractions and negativity" that Sikka gave as reason for his resignation.
Murthy and six other engineers founded Infosys in 1981, putting India on the global IT map. He served as CEO from 1981 to 2002 and was succeeded by co-founder Nandan Nilekani. In 2007, Nilekani was succeeded by another co-founder, S Gopalakrishnan. Who was succeeded by another co-founder, S D Shibulal, as CEO in 2014.
At Infosys he articulated, designed and implemented a Global Delivery Model for IT services outsourcing from India. He was chairman of the board from 2002 to 2006, after which he became 'chief mentor'. In August 2011, he retired from the company, taking the title of chairman emeritus.
On June 1, 2013, Murthy returned to Infosys as executive chairman, after performance came under pressure. He reverted to chairman emeritus in October 2014, after appointing Vishal Sikka as the first non-founder CEO in August 2014.
Prior to joining Infosys, Sikka was a member of the executive board and global managing board of SAP AG, leading all SAP products and innovation globally. Sikka has agreed to continue at Infosys as executive vice-chairman till the end of the current financial year for the required transition of his role to interim CEO Pravin Rao.
Infosys' co-founders continue to hold 13 per cent stake in the company, valued at Rs 27,500 crore. Murthy has publicly criticised Infosys over the past six-seven months for what he deems lapses in corporate governance. In his latest mail, he criticised the board for failing to uphold the company's famed governance standards and not "creating checks and balances required in any well-run company".
He has in the past not only questioned the purchase of Panaya but also the generous severance payments made to former finance head Rajiv Bansal (part of which was stopped later) and to former general counsel David Kennedy.
In his statement on Friday, Murthy said he had been told by several shareholders who had read a whistle-blower report that it is hard to believe "a report produced by a set of lawyers hired by a set of accused, giving a clean chit to the accused, and the accused refusing to disclose why they got a clean chit. They say that this is not the way an impartial and objective investigation should be held".
This is not unexpected from Murthy, who has frequently said: "When in doubt, disclose."