Ravi Venkatesan, who is bridging the gap at Infosys

The company’s founders, led by N.R. Narayana Murthy, had questioned certain decisions taken by the board, including CEO Vishal Sikka’s salary hike.

May 13, 2017 05:04 pm | Updated 05:04 pm IST

Ravi Venkatesan, Chairman, SVP India, at a meeting organised by TiE Chennai and Villgro, in Chennai on Wednesday

Ravi Venkatesan, Chairman, SVP India, at a meeting organised by TiE Chennai and Villgro, in Chennai on Wednesday

On April 13, amid a bitter public row between the management and the founders, Infosys appointed independent director Ravi Venkatesan as co-chairman. The company’s founders, led by N.R. Narayana Murthy, had questioned certain decisions taken by the board, including CEO Vishal Sikka’s salary hike to $11 million a year from $7 million, severance package to former employees and other corporate governance issues.

Why him?

In a move to end the spat, the second largest IT company in India, for the first time in its history, appointed a co-chairman. Mr. Venkatesan was an obvious choice, because he had been on the Infosys board since April 2011 and had made valuable contributions, including charting a strategic path for the growth of the organisation. As a board member, he had also overseen the transformation of Infosys from a founder-led organisation to a professionally run entity.

Mr. Venkatesan was on the board of the company before Mr. Sikka was appointed the first non-founder CEO of Infosys in June 2014. He played a significant role in reducing the friction between the management and the founders. “This is an exciting time for the technology industry and I am delighted to have the opportunity to work more closely with Sesh [Infosys chairman R. Seshasayee] and Vishal and his leadership team in their transformational journey,” Mr. Venkatesan had said earlier.

What is his role?

Though there is no specific role defined for a co-chairman in the Companies Act, Mr. Venkatesan is expected to work in a supporting role to Mr. Seshasayee. Mr. Venkatesan will also offer his expertise and insights to help Mr. Sikka in executing the company’s strategy. According to insiders, the co-chairman will help to enhance board engagement in supporting the management. Since his appointment as CEO, Mr. Sikka has been trying to transform Infosys into a next-generation IT services major with a focus on new technologies, such as artificial intelligence and automation. Mr. Sikka has said his aim is to double Infosys revenues to $20 billion by 2020. At a recent press conference, Mr. Sikka admitted that “unanticipated execution challenges and distractions” are partly affecting the company’s performance.

What has been the reaction?

The elevation of Mr. Venkatesan has not elicited any negative reaction from Mr. Murthy. This indicates the founders welcome the move. With Mr. Venkatesan getting a new role, industry-watchers and investors believe the tussle between the founders and the management will end.

How will he help Infosys?

With his experience in corporate leadership, innovation and a deep understanding of the economy, he is expected to bring in several strategic transformations within the organisation. Mr. Venkatesan, who helped global brands Cummins and Microsoft spread their wings in the country, is expected to contribute significantly to help Infosys’ growth strategy.

His quick adaptability to the roles offered to him is well-known in the industry. As chairman of Cummins India, he led the transformation of the company into India’s leading provider of engines and power solutions. Soon after his stint in the manufacturing sector, he shifted to the IT industry. As the India chairman of Microsoft till 2011, he was instrumental in making Microsoft India the second-largest centre in the world.

His book, Conquering the Chaos: Win in India, Win Everywhere , published by Harvard Business Review, gives a ringside view of how companies can do business in India. Through personal experience and in-depth interviews with CEOs and senior leaders at dozens of companies, the book tells us how one can tackle political changes, policy uncertainty and corruption, and thrive in India. He spearheaded Microsoft India’s Project Shiksha, a computer literacy programme which has so far trained over 40 million schoolchildren in India. Mr. Venkatesan also helped to set up the Cummins College of Engineering, India’s first engineering college for women, in Pune. With his varied experience, Mr. Venkatesan is expected to act as a bridge between the founders and the board going forward.

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