B S Raghavan

Infosys needs a strategic shake-up

B. S. Raghavan | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on June 11, 2013

Narayana Murthy’s return is not the ideal solution.

This columnist is in the unhappy position of having made a gloomy forecast, in his commentary carried by this paper on May 2, 2011, following the handing over of the chairmanship of Infosys by N.R. Narayana Murthy to K.V. Kamath.

For one thing, Kamath was the choice of a Nominations Committee headed by an American legal pundit with no knowledge of either technology or Indian conditions. For another, there was no comparison between Kamath, who had known only banking, and Murthy, who had grown with Infosys and built it brick by brick.

Maintenance of leadership in the domain of development of technology and its applications and, more particularly, lifting the trajectory of Infosys to exploit the entire scope of high-end technologies calls for extraordinary creativity, innovative capacity, intuition and the genius to sculpt and invent the future.

In my view, Kamath wasn’t made for this and Infosys could not simply afford to gamble at that stage.

Just as I feared, throughout his chairmanship, Kamath was not at all visible as one who was providing any kind of vigorous and forward-looking leadership to an organisation which had been fast overtaken by other IT firms.

GREATEST WORRY

I had concluded my piece with the apologia: “I have the very best for Infosys at heart in sharing these reflections, as a public duty deriving from 60 years of public service in various capacities as the Commerce and Industry Secretary and Chief Secretary of a State and CMD of four major public sector enterprises.”

Within 20 months of the appearance of that piece, Murthy had to be pressed to assume the role of an Executive Chairman in “a sudden, unexpected, and the most unusual” manner, as he put it.

It is the use by Murthy of these three descriptions that is causing me the greatest worry.

First of all, even though, with the induction of Kamath in August 2011, Murthy might have divested himself of any formal or open association with the organisation, he certainly could not have so effaced himself as to be totally ignorant of what was going on in the period subsequent to his handing over.

It was evident that there was a steep fall in the number of new clients, and job applicants too were turning to other pastures with the share of Infosys plummeting to 40 per cent in 2013.

The attrition rate too jumped to 16.3 per cent from 14.7 per cent the previous year. Thus, all the vital parameters were clearly ominous.

Knowing how things work at such levels, and especially remembering the colossal stature of Murthy as the founder, I am sure that there would have been a constant stream of news of happenings flowing his way from the time he left.

He must have been informally receiving from many former colleagues still holding him in reverence, and through grapevine, almost daily status reports.

Any other assumption would not do much credit to Murthy’s hold over, and identification with, his world-famous brainchild.

It will also question the ability and alertness of the leadership of the organisation to steer clear of similar crises in the future as well.

IDEAL SOLUTION

Hence, there was no excuse at all for Murthy to have allowed himself to be taken by surprise. If only he had kept abreast of developments, he could have, by unobtrusive mentoring, forestalled Infosys slipping into a mire. Failure to do so has resulted in the washing of dirty linen in public.

The quickness with which he took over the reins the moment they were offered by Kamath is also baffling. This is an error of judgment in my reckoning. For, the return of an erstwhile titanic figure doesn’t always carry with it the same magic as the original tenure.

There is a staleness that fails to electrify the personnel the same way as before. Also, it is apt to generate in the top echelons a feeling of having been judged incompetent. Murthy might find his efforts at breathing new life being met with silent sulking.

The ideal solution would have been for Murthy to anoint the fittest person in the top management as the chairman, and set up a board of four or five eminent former high profile executives under his chairmanship to do advance strategic planning and come up with measures to revamp the entire set-up.

The same board could also serve as the new chairman’s sounding board for fresh ideas for day-to-day operations and mid-course corrections.

Even now it is not too late.

Published on June 11, 2013
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