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Time for Infosys founders to move on - once and for all

When growth seemed to be slowing in June 2013, Narayana Murthy returned to the company along with his son Rohan despite promising that to keep his family away from the IT services company he built with six others. We know how this rescue mission ended.

November 28, 2019 / 12:56 PM IST
 
 
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Insanity, a popular description says, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. For those who watch developments at Infosys closely, the saying about madness has a certain resonance. Over and over again we have seen episodes of the iconic company’s cofounders attempting to rescue Infosys, revive it or replenish its image. And every time we have seen the same results.

When growth seemed to be slowing in June 2013, Narayana Murthy returned to the company along with his son Rohan despite promising that to keep his family away from the IT services company he built with six others. We know how this rescue mission ended.

Murthy, who was instrumental in appointing Vishal Sikka as the first non-founder CEO, turned against the former SAP executive and the then Chairman R Seshasayee. In 2017, Sikka was forced out along with much of the board. And another cofounder was persuaded to rescue Infosys.

This time, Nandan Nilekani is the man in the hot seat even if he was dragged to the Chairman’s chair kicking and screaming. Now, the CEO he hand-picked, Salil Parekh, is under fire from a group of whistleblowers who accuse him of financial misconduct.

If this is not insanity, what is?

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While Nilekani is no doubt eager to resolve the current imbroglio and leave the company better than he found it, the truth is that he has no easy long-term solutions. If the most damaging allegations against Parekh are found to be false, the story doesn’t end there.

In a large organisation there are bound to be instances where someone or the other steps over the line some time or the other. Which is why the whistleblower mechanism exists — to help the company have all the information it needs to enforce the highest standards of accountability. But if the whistleblower mechanism becomes a public spectacle every time and a tool that vested interests employ to defame those they don’t like, how does this end?

There are indications that employees of Infosys are in contact with outsiders and they use the whistleblower facility more to settle scores than in the organisational interest. This can be endless.

But not if the cofounders decide that this is insanity.

The only way to permanently save the institution of Infosys and its legacy is if the cofounders come together under a common pact — that they will all leave Infosys bag and baggage. Which means that other than for owning a symbolic one share each in the company they will sell their holdings and move on. This can happen only if they all agree that they will all leave together. Particularly all family members of the cofounders.

Some cofounders may argue that one of them is more insane than the rest. But it will take all of them to sell all their shares if the madness has to stop.

It is only then will the noise from the whistleblowers will cease to be so loud. And Infosys can go to become a truly professionally-managed company.
Pankaj Mishra
first published: Nov 28, 2019 12:56 pm

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