S Murlidharan

Murthy duo has done nothing wrong

S. MURLIDHARAN | Updated on March 12, 2018

Raising corporate governance issues over Rohan’s induction into Infosys is baseless.

Infosys Mentor N.R. Narayana Murthy’s spirited comeback to the company he co-founded has attracted snide remarks on two counts — one that age isn’t on his side, so he may not be able to reverse Infosys’ flagging fortunes the way Steve Jobs did for Apple in his second stint at the company.

And, two, his son should not have tagged along, even as a humble-sounding ‘executive assistant’ to his father, who has assumed responsibility as executive chairman.

The second criticism should hurt the twosome more as it calls into question their integrity and raises issues of corporate governance. But a deeper, dispassionate examination of the brouhaha over the induction of the executive chairman’s son would show that they have done nothing wrong, not even on propriety grounds. Rohan Murty, the son, isn’t going to take home any salary, apart from the token one rupee that his father too will get every month.

The uncharitable criticism is that this is not a big deal; after all, he holds some 80 lakh shares of the company valued at roughly Rs 2,000 crore.

Transparency

Even if Rohan has come forward with the self-serving motive of nursing his investment, is it such a terrible thing to do, given the fact that in this country promoters’ wives walk away with mind-boggling salaries for doing next to nothing?

Besides, he holds a Ph.D. from Harvard though, admittedly, that by itself is no guarantee that the company would be revived to the pink of business health and numero uno position.

Criticism on his induction would have carried conviction had he been given salary incommensurate with his qualifications and experience or disproportionately higher than that of his his peers in the organisation.

It would have also carried conviction had he been anointed an independent director pro forma, like many unscrupulous companies did when Sebi wanted independent directors to dominate boards of companies. He has, in fact, only been appointed executive assistant, with its humble implications. Rohan could have been accused as an upstart had he usurped anyone’s position. All that he is going to do is to assist his father in reviving the company.

There would not have been any criticism had Rohan offered his services from the comfort of the family’s home in Bangalore or even as a frequent and regular visitor to the executive chairman’s office.

The two are being pilloried because they have transparently told the world that he is going to hold a formal position in the company which, far from being a sinecure, would be a noblesse oblige.

Sounding board

In a country known for extra-constitutional authorities wielding power and browbeating into submission people in a position to dispense favours, the father-son duo needs to be praised rather than pilloried. It is also wrong to assume that by bringing in his son, Murthy senior would be giving others the short shrift.

That the father-son team will act as a sounding board or punching bag to each other does not warrant the inference that, together, they would undermine others in the organisation.

‘All in the family’ is normally a pejorative. But not when the teaming up is for laudable rather than sinister purposes.

Priya sisters, Carnatic musicians who sing together, have admitted that one would be lost without the other and that, but for their singing in one voice, they would be nowhere. The mesmerising quality to their concerts, they aver, is thanks to their combined singing.

A father and son usually share excellent vibes which, in fact, could make a case for them working together. The son may air his gut feelings and instinctive reactions more openly to his father, and vice-versa. This, however, does not mean they are going to make the organisation their personal fiefdom or take decisions without consulting others who matter. When disclosure is considered an adequate atonement for real corporate crimes — disclosure of related-party transactions in accounts, to wit — nobody can seriously take umbrage to a father-son duo working together for the revival of a company.

And, as far as Murthy senior is concerned, his genuine concern for the company he co-founded deserves unstinted praise when many honchos in the past have written for themselves unconscionable severance packages.

One might, of course, charge him with harbouring delusions of grandeur in assuming that he alone has the wisdom to revive the company.

To some, this might even appear as a parallel drama being enacted in the more rarified corporate world to the one being played out by Narendra Modi on the national centrestage.

Revival motive

To his detractors, Modi has the temerity to believe he alone can bring the BJP back into power. Similarly, Murthy senior’s detractors feel he believes that he alone can put the company back on rails.

But Murthy has taken the risk of putting his prestige on the line — he has reportedly told the corporate world that he is a ‘turnaround specialist’, though that might not quite be an accurate description of what motivated his return. A more reasonable and probable motive could be that his heart has always been with Infosys though he hung up his boots long ago.

(The author is a New Delhi-based chartered accountant.)

Published on July 04, 2013

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