India-born Vishal Sikka, 46, who on Monday resigned from the executive board of enterprise software product company SAP AG with immediate effect, is understood to be in the fray for the position of chief executive officer at Infosys Technologies, India's second-largest information technology services company.
Infosys had in April this year initiated the process to identify a successor to S D Shibulal, who has decided to step down in January next year, or even earlier.
According to sources in the know, Sikka has met Infosys' board members on several occasions in recent past and been part of various events at the company. He had also made a presentation before the Infosys board at the company's annual strategy meeting in Mysore in January.
Sikka's candidature, according to informed sources, is believed to have the backing of K V Kamath, the chairman of the company's nominations committee.
An emailed query sent to Infosys remained unanswered. When contacted, Kamath said he was not aware of any development, as he was on a holiday abroad. "There is nothing now. As and when something happens, we will let you know," he told Business Standard over phone.
However, a senior company source confirmed Sikka had met Infosys board members, but did not say whether it was related to business partnership or for other reasons.
SAP, where Sikka was responsible for technology and innovation, is also a technology partner for Infosys. The Bangalore-based company's SAP practice gives it revenues of over $1 billion a year.
Sikka, son of an Indian Railways employee, grew up in Vadodara, where he got his early education before moving to the US. He holds a BS in computer science from Syracuse University and a PhD in artificial intelligence from Stanford University. Considered an exceptional technocrat, Sikka joined SAP in 2002. In March 2007, the German software major appointed him its first chief technology officer (CTO). Since 2010, he was part of the company's executive board, managing $7-8 billion of revenues globally.
During his stint at SAP, Sikka also led the development of the HANA platform, the fastest-growing product in the company's history, generating over $1 billion in revenues.
The task of identifying the new Infosys CEO has been given to a nominations committee, which includes lead independent director K V Kamath and independent directors Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and R Seshasayee. The company had said its nominations panel would evaluate internal and external candidates for the job, with help from corporate executive evaluation specialist Development Dimensions International (DDI) and multinational executive search firm Egon Zehnder.
"Sikka's name for the CEO post has been doing the rounds for some time now and his move to resign on Monday, abruptly, reinforces the belief there could be some reality in those rumours," said a senior analyst at a domestic brokerage. "Someone who has had such a long and healthy relationship with a company will resign so abruptly only if he is moving to a competitor, even if it is a much smaller competitor."
The emergence of Sikka's name as a strong contender for the CEO post comes as a surprise to several Infosys observers, who believe an external candidate might not be the right choice for the company at the current juncture. For several months, two Infosys presidents - B G Srinivas and U B Pravin Rao - have been seen as leading candidates for the top job at the company.
"It will be a mammoth task for an outsider to manage Infosys at this stage," said another analyst. "If an outsider comes in, it will take another two years for the company to get back to its desired pace of growth, because a lot of time with go in the new person getting accustomed to the Infosys fabric."
While there are no doubts about Sikka's outstanding technical credentials, experts remain sceptical over his merits to lead Infosys at a time when it is faced with challenges like declining profitability, shrinking market share and an all-time-high attrition rate.
Some also believe that Sikka's experience does not match the requirements to be Infosys CEO. However, many others are of the view that Infosys at present requires a CEO with "only a broad understanding of technology and a lot of hunger".
Read Vishal Sikka's blog