Today, the tortuous saga of leadership at Infosys came to a close when the company finally announced the appointment of Vishal Sikka as CEO, something that had been churning the rumour mills till now but had yet to become official news.
This was pretty much Infosys' last shot at alleviating the rising panic amongst shareholders as well as employees at the grim state of affairs at what was once India’s pioneering IT company that also served as the industry bellwether. Not only did Infosys not promote its bonafide stars—at least 11 of them abandoned ship in just the last year when founder Narayana Murthy decided that he should assume the reins of Infosys once again—but it also lost the confidence of a flood of middle managers who also decided that this wasn’t the place for them anymore. Consequently, churn was an industry high 18.7 percent in March, 2.4 percentage points higher than year earlier.
People would argue that if Infosys was serious about the long-term future of its company its founders should have ditched the habit of awarding every one of its founders with the mantle of CEO a long time ago, like it was some kind of IT monarchy. Its stock price has returned an abysmal 1.4 times in the last 5 years, compared to HCL (12.24 times) TCS (6.28) Wipro (2.64).
However, Sikka's appointment is not just welcome news. It's also a smart choice. He was SAP's chief technology officer and ended up bringing to life HANA, the German company's flagship data analytics product which reportedly brought in Rs 5,064 crore in sales, up 69% from a year earlier. He was also on the executive board at SAP.
After finishing up at Rosary High School in Vadodara, Gujarat, Sikka attended Syracuse University where he studied Computer Science and then went on to get his PhD at Stanford where he studied artificial intelligence. Post-Stanford, Sikka and his brother first started iBrain as well as Bodha, a company that connects e-commerce systems with other applications. Bodha was acquired by Peregrine Systems and Sikka became its Vice President for Platform Technologies
Apparently SAP was itself experiencing a crisis of sorts where Sikka's ascendancy, according to Business Standard, was looked at by customers, board members and investors in Germany as yet another drive for American supremacy in a firm that was already overly Americanized. After an unflattering article in a German magazine about SAP's internal politics, Sikka apparently reacted with outrage on social media (he is an avid blogger and has 14,000 followers on Twitter) which is when the die was cast for his exit.
SAP's loss is Infosys' considerable gain. He becomes the first non-founder of the company. Come June 14th, Executive Chairman NR Narayana Murthy and Executive Vice Chairman S Gopalakrishnan will both relinquish hold of their baby and Narayana Murthy's son Rohan Murthy, who came in to assist dad will also leave.
Considering Sikka's tech credentials, managerial capabilities and his penchant for innovating blockbuster products in the realms 0f digital and cloud, Infosys— a struggling company in an industry that is increasingly finding it difficult to climb up the value chain—couldn't have dreamed up a better outcome.