Business Companies 19 Aug 2017 Vishal Sikka: Chosen ...

Vishal Sikka: Chosen CEO falls from the grace

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | ANAND PARTHASARATHY
Published Aug 19, 2017, 2:20 am IST
Updated Aug 19, 2017, 2:20 am IST
After the exit of Sikka, the Moot question is which way Infosys will take — Murthy’s ethical way or Sikka’s pragmatic route.
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.
 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.

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. 

 

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