By Ruma Dubey
The stock market today celebrated the appointment of a CEO and MD at Infosys. Based on the track record of Salil Parekh, everyone is convinced, at least for now that he is the best choice. He is said to be the perfect “cultural” fit for Infosys.
The market had greeted the ex-CEO, Vishal Sikka with the same gusto and we know how ugly that spat really became. So while the market heaves a sigh of relief that Infosys CEO is finally over, there is, at the back of the mind, a niggling question of “how long?”
Given the long spat of internal strife within Infosys which has maimed the company and its image very badly, on account of these past memories, one cannot help but think this new CEO is also a transitory thing. Parekh is contracted for five years and somehow, this feeling of permanency does not settle in.
Is that how we will now change our outlook for CEOs? When professionally hired, CEOs are indeed transitory; it is only that in India, most being led by the promoter family, the mind is unable to wrap around this sense of “transitory CEO.” There are companies like L&T and ITC which have had professional CEOs and MDs but they have all been long term becoming almost generic with the name of the company. That feeling of permanency, for now, is missing.
For a company which epitomized corporate governance, the past mudslinging by the Board has tarnished this image. A company like Infosys is iconic and so is its founder member, Narayana Murthy. Even the other founder and currently their “Man Friday” Nandan Nilekani is legendary. Thus when there are such founders, who are legends, it is very difficult to accept a new culture of such transitory CEO. It is more like witnessing a generational shift. At the same time, for Infosys itself this is a slow and very painful process to reinventing itself. In all this internal strife, the company has missed the bus when it comes to AI, IoT and even software automation. Infosys does have its AI platform, Nia, but in all this turmoil of management, it is yet to make any significant impact.
Parekh has his task cut out for him and it does begin first with soothing the nerves of the employees and shareholders alike. The company has only won half the battle of choosing the CEO, the real task begins now. Sikka built up the company more as a ‘product’ company and Parekh will have to undo that perception and make it once again into the ‘service’ company that it was. The internal leadership team today stands eroded and that Parekh’s another challenge would be to build leadership, manage and maintain employee confidence. Attrition is a big issue at Infosys and that will need to be reversed; that will happen only when Parekh’s work starts showing results. On the operational front, Parekh’s challenge would be to help Infosys once again win contracts in core operations, invest in AI and automation, improve earnings and once again, make Infosys relevant.