Thoughts on the Infosys Row

It seems like a culture war is brewing at India’s awesomest company. As a graduate of a 3rd tier engineering college, it was once a dream company for me and many other unfortunates. That residual past gives me respect for Infosys, not less because of the sheer number of smart people I have seen coming from its huge and verdant meatpacking warehouses in the south of India.

In Infosys NRN has created a legacy for himself, much more enduring than he may ever do as a Venture Capitalist. Infosys created a ton of respectable white collar jobs, turned ship loads of lucky guys into green card holders, and was arguably the first company in the last century to inform the world that the Indians mentioned by Greek geographers like Herodotus “still got it”.

Infosys was NRN’s creation, and it is natural for someone his age and with his self-professed conservative values to cling to his legacy. Vishal Sikka is a different personality, and has a different physiognomy from a vegetarian. He has big ears and a high brow, clearly a result of high “Leadership” testesterone – kind of a cross between Asok and the CEO from Dilbert. I digress.

Fundamentally Vishal Sikka is as deeply technical as NRN (he has a PhD) but he has spent his life in many roles and companies and for good or bad – he brings many different perspectives.

Also NRN’s intervention in the workings of Infosys are part of a historically repeating pattern: NRN decamps from public life. NRN re-appears as statesman. Like a Roman Patrician who challenges the legitimacy of any upstart Equestrian order.

NRN is not just a founder but remains a major shareholder in Infosys. He ethically has every cause to voice his concerns over the American educated foreign CEO making fundamental changes to what has worked perfectly yesterday.

Roman consul Mark Antony and Octavian Caesar during happier days

Personally I see Sikka’s changes as a step in the right direction. Sikka to me appears to be following an Accenture like goal for Infosys: a clear direction of selling more strategic IT services to the CXO levels. Being in SAP as long as he has been, he would have many leads into the CXOs of organizations running the popular german enterprise software, and there are thousands of such companies across the world.

I feel at the heart of the conflict lies the fact that Infosys has had a focus on delivering shareholder value, but Sikka has pushed it into a sort of investment curve that has cut into profitability. It is a trade off between quarterly profits in favor of long term profitability. I am inclined to believe that the future of India’s IT bellwether is worth more than providing instant gratification to sell-side analysts or dividends to flighty investors.

To become like Accenture, Infosys would also need to make amends to its organizational culture to prevent Roman style publically warring factions. It is not becoming of a global organization to have fiercely divided loyalties so high up in the chain. The board and management committees are supposed to be part of a cohesive team not a plot for Julius Caesar.

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