Business Today

Infosys Needs a Modi

Bangalore's most famous employer is struggling with exits at the top level as Co-founder and Chairman N.R. Narayana Murthy tries to pull the company out of the hole it is in, writes Managing Editor Josey Puliyenthuruthel
Josey Puliyenthuruthel | Print Edition: June 22, 2014
Business Today Managing Editor Josey Puliyenthuruthel
Business Today Managing Editor Josey Puliyenthuruthel

"We need a Modi." This is how an Infosys executive climbing the company's middle ranks summed up the leadership vacuum at the once-feted software services firm. Bangalore's most famous employer is struggling with exits at the top level as Co-founder and Chairman N.R. Narayana Murthy tries to pull the company out of the hole it is in. With the latest departure of a top internal contender for the CEO position, which falls vacant before or by January 9, 2015, Infosys could be ready for an external CEO hire - an option that Murthy would have shrugged off some time ago as not part of the company's DNA.

The landscape has changed dramatically over just six years, however. Rivals such as Tata Consultancy Services and Cognizant have grabbed bigger shares of the offshored tech services market than Infosys. Like N. Chandrasekaran and Francisco D'Souza, Infosys, too, needs an energetic and smart leader. When he took the TCS CEO role, Chandra, as his colleagues call him, was 20 years younger than predecessor S. Ramadorai. At 16 years, the age gap between D'Souza and Lakshmi Narayanan was less but not small. Both Ramadorai and Narayanan were capable leaders and delivered growth in their respective companies. Still, it is almost as if their young successors got jet packs strapped on to the companies after taking over. Insiders talk about the change in energy levels at the top, quick decisions, expanded bandwidth, and an openness to experiment. (Don't forget they don't run small outfits; TCS's revenues are about the same as Assam's state domestic product.) Infosys could use some of that mojo. Murthy and the Infosys board will make as best a choice for the next CEO as possible. But one thing is essential to increase the odds of that selection working: Murthy should completely exit the company this time. I know how gut-wrenching it will be for Murthy - he's often called Infosys his middle child (he has a daughter and a son) - to do that. Even so, except for a brief transition period, he should cut all ties with the company, including giving up his Chairman Emeritus office in the heritage building on the beautiful Infosys Bangalore campus, once a new CEO checks in. He is too big a persona for Infosys not to get distracted by. To be sure, Murthy's exit will only be a necessary and not sufficient condition for Infosys's comeback.

In 22 years of Business Today's existence (13 of them as the market leader by readership), it is for the first time that we are putting the same person on our cover in consecutive issues. Narendra Modi represents a new leadership settling in fine at New Delhi, early hiccups notwithstanding. Like any other new leader, he's hungry to prove himself and has hit the asphalt running. He's in office unusually early (throwing out of gear processes in New Delhi's power corridors), is setting clear expectations of his team (he told his Cabinet colleagues to come up with achievable 100-day targets, the output of which would be measured), is clear he will do what it takes to get his team going (changing the rules to get a principal secretary of his choice), and is not stepping back from initiative (inviting Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif for the swearing-in) or imagination (merging ministries in one form or another).

He intends going for the jugular, clearly. How he takes 1.2 billion Indians along on decisions that may seem right only to the Hindu right will decide how good he makes his statesman ambitions. That, in turn, is a function of how coachable he is, as I argued in my last letter. Sixty-three is not young but that makes Modi 18 years younger than predecessor Manmohan Singh. For a nation whose citizens are clustered around a median age of 27, the new Indian Prime Minister looks like he means business. To deliver on that promise, Modi has first several legislative cobwebs to remove. A team of Business Today writers shine the light on the tough task ahead. All the best, Mr PM.

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