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Finding Infosys' new leader

Need to cut the umbilical cord, and look far and wide

Business Standard Editorial Comment  |  New Delhi 

Infosys, India's second largest software services firm, has initiated a process to find a successor to S D Shibulal, the current CEO and a co-founder of the firm. This is a crucial step for Infosys' future since the new CEO will be the first non-founder to take over the leadership of the company. Infosys is unique in many ways and it is the founders who have made it so. Under the leadership of the first two, N R Narayana Murthy and Nandan Nilekani, the company had thrived; however, it fell behind under the leadership of the next two founders. It can be said with the benefit of hindsight that the firm should have initiated the process of looking at outsiders for the top job earlier, after Mr Nilekani's departure, so that Mr Murthy would not have had to come back to steady the ship - a task in which he has made commendable progress. But now that the delayed process is under way, every effort must go into making it a success.

As a firm with a clear governance system in place, Infosys can be expected to go through a sensible process. But that is different from conducting the exercise in the right spirit and preventing a foregone conclusion from being merely rubber-stamped. For that, the first mental block that has to be overcome is the temptation to restrict the choice to insiders. Mr Murthy has already said that "all of us would like one of these two people [presidents] to become the next leader ... but that's for the nominations committee to decide". Therefore, everything depends on the signals that the nominations committee, which is undertaking the search with expert outside assistance, gets from people who ultimately matter. The second mental block that has to be overcome is the temptation not to widen the choice to include not only outsiders but also non-Indian outsiders. Infosys is now run by Indians and is staffed almost entirely by Indians - but is majority foreign-owned.

There is every need for Infosys, which earns most of its revenue from outside India, to become a truly global company - the only way to do so is to have a global management team. There cannot be a restriction on where the leader of this team can come from. There is a strong political sentiment in the United States, the largest market for Indian software firms, to create more jobs in America; tighter visa norms are being contemplated to restrict the number of non-Americans who can be inducted for onshore work. So there is a need to send the right signals to the US public and legislators. Apart from this, going by Infosys' recent performance, the firm had become a bit complacent and overly sure of itself. It needs to be shaken up a little. Mr Murthy has already done that by returning to the helm. The task must now be carried forward by the next CEO. He or she must be a figure easily recognised by the industry globally and should be able to easily access other global industry and client leaders. It shouldn't matter what passport he or she holds.

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First Published: Mon, April 14 2014. 21:38 IST