Bengaluru: Three years and three weeks after his surprise appointment as the first CEO and managing director of Infosys, who was not also a founder, Vishal Sikka has given up his post. Yes, he remains with the company as “executive vice- chairman” but that is merely a transitory appointment. Mr Sikka’s resignation, announced at the start of business hours on Friday, ends his brief run at what media cliche has always dubbed a ‘bellwether” Indian technology company. It has been a run that was a combo of charisma and controversy — neither entirely of his own making.
He came to Infosys in August 2014 — at a time when the company was at some sort of crossroads — not sure which way it was headed. In the three decades since it was started in 1985 , five of the seven co-founders had their round-robin stint heading the company. They were ready to take a back seat — and hand it over to a professional outside manager. They chose Mr Sikka. It needs to be stressed that he was anointed with the full blessings of the founders because they were the ones, who two years and a bit later, started the murmurs, seemingly questioning his suitability and style.
Mr Sikka was something of a poster boy for IT when he joined Infosys — after 12 years with the Germany-based global leader in enterprise software — SAP. Sikka who became SAP’s chief technology officer in 2007, just 5 years after he joined the company, is credited with helping SAP take on Oracle on its home ground in the US. Indeed Mr Sikka almost throughout his career and even after joining Infosys has been mostly based in the US Silicon Valley. He was also the chief driver and evangelist of SAP’s agni astra or secret weapon, HANA, a cool database platform.
I remember, every year, attending the SAP TechEd annual event at the SAP Lab’s Whitefield campus in Bengaluru, during Sikka’s heyday. Some 5,000 engineers gathered to hear him address them — always by video link. He rarely bothered to come to India even for this annual conference. Mr Sikka’s video addresses never lasted for less than an hour and 97 per cent of it was about HANA. This may have been OK at SAP; but I think Mr Sikka made a tactical error if he thought he could do this sort of remote control piloting at Infosys, a company with a vastly different culture. Yes, finally it all boiled down to corporate culture. Sikka is credited, probably fairly, with bringing a new, and more aggressive work style to Infosys. From his vantage point in the US Bay area, he perhaps had early warnings that the Infosys model of manpower-intensive,service-centric software had to adapt to the garam hava of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) — or die.
He is, in all probability, the brain behind the announcement that Infosys would hire 10,000 engineers in the US, even if it meant retraining most of them. The timing was unfortunate — coming on the heels of large-scale retrenchment at Infosys’ India end. It led to the impression that Infosys was firing in India and hiring in the US. It also came at a time when mishandled announceme-nts at Infosys suggested that senior management receiv-ed pay or severance pay that ran into millions. The Infosys Old Guard has been profoundly discomfited by such an adverse image for a company which was founded and run (by them) on some old fashioned values that today’s more pragmatic managers have no use for.
Mr Murthy in particular has not hid his displeasure at the new dispensation. The swirl of controversy in recent weeks, was perhaps too much for Sikka to take and when he saw more attention to the style rather than the substance of his contributions, he seems to have decided to leave. That still leaves moot, the question of which route Infosys will take; whether its core values is sustainable in an increasingly competitive market; or whether it will evolve its own path to progress where hard-nosed business can co-exist with a broad humanity.