Now that Nandan Nilekani, as chairman of Infosys, is actively engaged in reconstituting the board and finding a new CEO, public focus and attention have shifted. From recording the acrimony between the board and N R Narayana Murthy, there is now speculation over the likely outcome of Nilekani’s efforts.
While the advent of a powerful and distinctive board is more or less taken for granted, the field of conjecture is wide open on what kind of a CEO
the somewhat battered Infosys
is likely to have. After what happened to Vishal Sikka, it is being increasingly argued that not only will an outsider find it difficult to fit into Infosys
with its highly defined ethos, few outsiders of any standing may want to come in.
So speculation is now veering round to the reality that the new CEO
will have to be an Infosys
man. Those who know the global scene say that in view of the many departures that have taken place from senior positions in Infosys
in the last few years, there is a lot of talent out there among Infosys
alumni. It is not difficult to visualise one of them coming in at the top.
But this will solve only half the problem. The global software industry is undergoing a transformation and a new technology-driven industry is not just emerging but is already here, staring down at the IT industry.
The majority opinion amongst global media has been that India’s software leaders have been slow to change. Hence, they have to run fast to remain in business. Sikka was ideal in offering a new technology
vision and taking the company
towards that goal.
Since hardly any Infosys
senior, either from the past or current, has that kind of technological acumen, there is scope for a new chief technology
officer (CTO), a rank outsider, coming in along with a new CEO.
This ties up with the notion voiced by some in India that Sikka would have made a great CTO and was not really equipped as CEO
to supervise the housekeeping along with outlining and pursuing a technology
Beyond the next decade
The new duo at the top, if the foregoing scenario actually bears out, will be driven by two imperatives - technology
will have to technologically transform itself to remain in business beyond the next ten years. Plus, with Murthy having made such an issue about governance, the company
will not just have to pursue a high benchmark on governance
but also be seen to be doing so. This may turn out to be a bit of an onerous task.
On technology, the mood within the company
can be gauged from what a young Infosys
techie with ten years industry experience had to say just before Nilekani came in.
“I am a first-hand witness of how he [Sikka] brought about change and challenged the entire machinery — one that had grown too big and therefore too lazy…. We have been an enthused lot under his leadership and vision. Time will tell how the current board, under the constant bullying of the founders and their henchmen, can perform and to what extent…. I for one am very upset with this exit [of Sikka]. Very difficult for an external person to keep the reins and yet keep things moving…. They [the founders] will always rock the boat on them.”
On governance, it is important to go back in time to see how the issue has come to play the role that it has in the company.
Over ten years ago, while researching an article on the brand play of India’s three software leaders, I came upon a fascinating reality.
The three were almost identical in every way, yet they had highly differentiated marketing strategies and were anything but me-too brands.
Subir Roy is a senior journalist and the author of Made in India: A study of emerging competitiveness (Tata Mcgraw Hill, 2005) and the forthcoming Ujjivan: The microfinance frontrunner (OUP)