Infosys has finally split from its resemblance to Microsoft and the entailing overbearing founder problem. Has Murthy cleared all roads for SAP's Vishal Sikka?
Until yesterday, the company that bore a striking resemblance to Infosys, with regard to its state of affairs and surrounding circumstances, was U.S software giant Microsoft.
Think about it, the similarities are quite apparent. A company who had a CEO (Ballmer, Shibulal), who while talented, may not have been just the right person for the job.
A company that had its larger-than-life founders come back ostensibly for a second innings; albeit in a slightly different role(Narayana Murthy, Bill Gates after Nadella was appointed). A company that was facing CEO succession problems (Infy’s game of co-founder musical chairs, Ballmer’s hesitance in stepping down) despite a talented board.
But most importantly, Infosys and Microsoft are companies who have also stumbled and lost their ways—Infosys with regard to execution and operation issues, Microsoft with regard to its vision.
Infosys’s decision to appoint former SAP hotshot Vishal Sikka as its new CEO, however, has brought a crashing end to any similarities it might have shared with the Eagle of Redmond.
Microsoft for instance chose to search for redemption from within by picking up Satya Nadella and anointing him. Bill Gates decided to come back in the role of a product visionary, while Ballmer has chosen to sit back at the Office of Second Guessing. Looking back at it, it was an altogether satisfactory solution, the type that has a neat ribbon sitting on top of it; Microsoft gets to retain its DNA and at the same time, position a leader who will take it through the age of the Cloud.
Infosys on the other hand has chosen not to cling to its past sins—and sinners. The biggest news in today’s announcement is not the appointment of Vishal Sikka—the rumour mill had been spinning for a while now—but that Narayana Murthy and his offspring have decided to step down voluntarily from their positions effective June 14. Current CEO S.D Shibulal, almost an afterthought really now, will leave a month later.
The biggest advantage here is that Sikka will have no overbearing founders breathing down on him, silently watching and plotting coups from the shadows. It is a surprisingly clean break from Infosys’ past, and kudos to Sikka for managing to wing this.
On the other hand, there is hardly any “hand-holding” period that one usually expects with a transition as large as this. Is it because Murthy believes all threats to Sikka’s leadership have left the company through its “cost-cutting” exodus of senior leadership? Or that Sikka will be able to hit the ground running from day one with this experience at SAP?
Also, just because the trouble-makers have left the building, it doesn’t mean that Sikka will not have to navigate politically murky waters within the company. For a large, established firm like Infosys, having to use an executive recruiter carries a profoundly bad aroma. Even those employees charmed by Sikka’s technology celebrity status may find it a little difficult to accept an outsider. And, depending on the news report you choose to believe, Sikka may or may not be good at the Machiavellian maneuvering needed as CEO.
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 has also decided to keep its much-vaunted 3.0 strategy (which focusses on big data, products and platforms, analytics) on the backburner.
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 Indian IT industry into the 21st century.