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Will Vishal Sikka bring his SAP magic to Infosys?

Vishal Sikka, who led the "intellectual renewal" of enterprise software company SAP as its chief technology officer, was appointed the new CEO of software services bellwether Infosys.

twitter-logo Goutam Das        Last Updated: June 12, 2014  | 14:07 IST
Vishal Sikka
Vishal Sikka Photo: Reuters

Vishal Sikka, who led the "intellectual renewal" of enterprise software company SAP as its chief technology officer, was appointed the new CEO of software services bellwether Infosys.

The CEO-designate, 46, will join the company June 14 and will take the corner office at the company, struggling with a leadership crisis and several exits at the top level, effective August 1, Infosys said in a statement.

Sikka, who is based out of the United States, is perhaps the right man for the job - there is an uncanny resemblance between SAP of 2008 and the Infosys of 2014. In 2008, the German multinational was called a turtle, a giant that was too slow. The company was being slammed by customers, analysts and competitors; it was unable to innovate and competitors such as Oracle gained ground and relative newcomer Salesforce.com emerged a strong rival.

We hear much of the same about Infosys now.

Sikka, back then, spearheaded HANA, a new database management system that eventually became SAP's fastest growing product ever. Its success reinvigorated the company, changing the company's culture to being more customer-centric and more start-up like - agile and fast at developing software.             

Infosys requires similar pills. In Sikka, Infosys may find a leader who is flamboyant, energetic, has deep customer connections, speaks his mind, and can inspire teams. If he doesn't like an idea, he can tell you it is "chickenshit". His candour and focus had made him a CEO front-runner at SAP before he quit in May this year.

Sikka, born into a family originally from Punjab, grew up in Rajkot.  His father worked in the Indian Railways as a civil engineer. After high school in Baroda (now Vadodara), he moved to the United States for higher education, which led to a doctorate in computer science from Stanford University in California. After founding two start-ups, he joined SAP in July 2002. And stayed there until 2014.

The big question now is if Sikka will have a free hand to run Infosys, a company that reflects the original promoters' traits of preferring to be risk-averse and favouring predictability of business over big bets.

Sikka will not have the presence of promoters Kris Gopalakrishnan and S. D. Shibulal, executive vice chairman and MD & CEO respectively, in the company (Kris steps down June 14 and Shibulal July 31). Chairman N. R. Narayana Murthy will become Chairman Emeritus from October 11, after which board member K. V. Kamath will assume the chairman role. U.B. Pravin Rao, president and director, will be elevated to chief operating officer June 14.

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