The biggest news in today’s announcement from Infosys was not the appointment of Vishal Sikka, the rumour mill had been spinning for a while now on that, but that Narayana Murthy, Kris Gopalakrishnan and S.D Shibulal were ready to bid adieu to the company they co-founded 33 years ago.
Ever since the return of Narayana Murthy, the exodus of executives that followed and the company’s decision to go for an outside CEO, Infosys has been plagued with a number of questions. Was the CEO hunt, for instance, a logical end to the way the company had been run for the last three decades? Or was it the inability of the board and leadership team to put in a workable succession plan?
Again, was it necessary for Mr. Murthy to return, son in tow, to prepare the company for a clean start? Could
Mr. Shibulal and Mr. Gopalakrishnan have not done the same, minus all the drama of the past few months that hurt employee morale?
Questions, however, have a way of becoming redundant in the face of success, and if Mr. Sikka does succeed, these questions will not matter.
The biggest advantage for Mr. Sikka is that he will have no overbearing founders breathing down his neck from within the company. It is a surprisingly clean break from Infosys’ past, with much of the credit going to lead independent director K. V Kamath and Mr. Murthy for giving the new CEO the much required space to operate.
The challenges are also immediately clear: just because possible CEO contenders have left the building, it doesn’t mean that Mr. Sikka will not have to navigate murky waters within the company. After all, most large firms trying to get rid of the larger-than-life founder(s) curse— such as Apple, Microsoft and Wal-Mart—have generally recruited from within the companies themselves.
For an established company like Infosys, having to cast its net outside sends a bad signal by itself. Even those employees charmed by Mr. Sikka’s technology celebrity status may find it a little difficult to accept an outsider.
Above all, Vishal Sikka certainly has the vision, but he will also need the temperament to temporarily ignore his love for software platforms. Just as SAP chose to stick to applications over platforms (execution over innovation), Infosys, post Mr. Murthy’s return, also decided to keep its much-vaunted 3.0 strategy (which focuses on big data, products and platforms, analytics) on the back-burner.
Infosys, at least for the next one year, needs an executor not an innovator. Vishal Sikka will have to play that role first—by restoring employee morale, focusing on the bigger, more traditional contracts and shoring up client confidence— before he can take the company and the industry into the 21st century.