Has Infosys lost the best man for the best job?

 

If stock markets are any indication, Vishal Sikka’s resignation as the MD & CEO of Infosys is clearly a big dent in the company’s image. Right since the time the news broke, the Infosys scrip crashed to close down 9.60% at Rs 923.10 on the BSE. The mood at the company’s sprawling campus in Electronic City, Bengaluru, also seemed melancholic. Some employees said on condition of anonymity that they were “highly disappointed” to hear about his resignation.

Sikka joined Infosys in August 2014 when the company desperately needed to turn itself around. In Sikka’s own words, “it needed new skills, new thinking, new initiatives, and a transformation in the culture, from a cost-oriented value delivery, to entrepreneurship oriented value delivery.” The good part is, Sikka was successfully driving this change. The sad part is, the journey had to abruptly end today with his resignation.

Under Sikka, Infosys had almost become the torchbearer of the digital transformation story in the Indian IT industry. It felt fresh and alive. Employees seemed to have found a new sense of purpose after a lacklustre period under co-founder S.D. Shibulal, who Sikka took over the mantle from.

Since Sikka came on board, we heard a lot about artificial intelligence (AI), automation, machine learning, augmented reality, virtual reality – disruptive technologies that are indispensable in solving today’s customer problems. It now appears that Infosys will be going slow when it actually needed to change fast.

“I came here to help navigate the company through what I saw as a massive transformation opportunity, to transform our company and restore strong profitable growth, as well as help transform the business of our customers. I came to do this with the power of technology, given my experiences with similar transformations, my background in AI, and the structural changes that I saw happening in the IT services industry…” Sikka wrote in his resignation letter.

As destined to be, the differences between Sikka and the founders led by N.R. Narayana Murthy snowballed and finally it ended with his resignation today. While Murthy himself had handpicked Sikka for the CEO’s role, in the last one-and-a-half years, the relations between Murthy and the Infosys board (which includes Sikka) had turned sour. Primarily, Murthy had raised concerns over the severance package of former CFO Rajiv Bansal and the compensation of Sikka and suggested some changes into the board. Questions were also being raised on the management for alleged wrongdoings in the $200-million acquisition of Panaya. Independent investigations have however given a clean chit to Infosys.

“The distractions that we have seen, the constant drumbeat of the same issues over and over again, while ignoring and undermining the good work that has been done, take the excitement and passion out of this amazing journey. Over the last many months and quarters, we have all been besieged by false, baseless, malicious and increasingly personal attacks,” Sikka wrote on his resignation letter. “Addressing the noise by itself is damaging; hundreds of hours of my own time has gone into this recently.”

Sikka is credited with leading some transformational initiatives including (a) the Zero Distance program which intended to drive grassroots innovation at a massive scale, through every employee, (b) Design Thinking training, the largest program of its kind to drive creative confidence and problem-finding in every Infoscion, and (c) Zero Bench, a bold notion of leveraging the bench as a means to drive additional value for clients. Under his leadership, Infosys developed and launched its AI platform Nia, deployed with more than 70 clients. Infosys has also ventured into new horizons both with design-thinking with clients and its startup investment fund.

To ensure a smooth transition, the board has appointed Sikka as the Executive Vice Chairman effective today who will hold office until a new permanent CEO & MD takes charge or March 31, 2018, whichever is earlier. This transition however, could be anything but smooth. Sikka was the technocrat that Infosys desperately needed to transform into a new-age digital company. It has surely lost the best man for the best job. Infosys will perhaps never be the same again!

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