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Friday, August 18, 2017

Been away from home far too often, far too long: Vishal Sikka
NEW DELHI: Stress is perhaps a given when you are the CEO of a multi-billion dollar technology firm. But "continued assaults" of "baseless" allegations are certainly not what Vishal Sikka signed up for when he joined Infosys three years ago.

Sikka was welcomed into the troubled-Infosys with much fanfare, becoming the company's first non-founder CEO in 2014. He was taking over from S D Shibulal at a time when rivals were racing ahead and the company was losing manpower at a steady pace, along with its precious 'bellwether' tag.

His entry was also keenly followed as he took over the reins of the over three decade-old company, ending an era of promoter-led leadership.

And the ride promised to be a bumpy one. However, controversies just kept getting added to the equation.

Sikka had the blessings of the co-founders, including NR Narayana Murthy, when he had stepped into Infosys.

Three years hence, Murthy turned out to be his nemesis and the very reason for Sikka's sudden exit from the $10- billion IT giant.

At the time of Sikka's appointment, Murthy waxed eloquent about his "illustrious track record" and value system that made Sikka an "ideal choice" for Infosys.

Sikka had the task cut out right in the beginning. He had the responsibility of reinvigorating the company that was facing mass exodus of employees and losing out to rivals.

The former SAP board member is credited with ushering in automation and artificial intelligence, technologies that have now become buzzwords in the IT services industry.

He took a number of steps, including gifting iPhones to woo top performers, and pushed up Infosys' financial metrics in signs of a turnaround.

The ambitious Sikka also threw a challenge to Infoscions, urging them to help scale up Infosys revenues to $20 billion by year 2020.

He was also clear that Infosys will not acquire companies of "yesterday". The Bengaluru-based firm has made a slew of acquisitions and investments in the last three years with the prominent ones being Skava, Noah Consulting and Panaya.

However, the $200-million Panaya deal stirred a hornet's nest with anonymous whistleblower complaints being sent to market regulators that alleged that senior executives may have benefited from the transaction.

For Infosys, it was a double-whammy. Like its peers, the company battled external challenges like visa clampdown in the US and Brexit.

A different kind of crisis was unfolding internally as founders regularly took potshots at the senior leadership for what they dubbed as corporate governance lapses.

Infosys continued to be in news for the most part of the year as comments and counter-comments kept investors, employees and clients on their toes.

Matters came to a head in the last few weeks where the "continued assaults" of "baseless" allegations reached a crescendo, growing more personal. This ultimately culminated in Sikka's sudden resignation, a day before the crucial meeting where the board will consider a buyback offer of as much as Rs 13,000 crore.

Over the next few months as Infosys searches for its next CEO, Sikka will draw a token salary of $1, a far cry from the earlier USD 11 million package.

While Sikka still does not have a major assignment lined up, he said he will probably take some time off and go surfing.

Spending more time with his loved ones is also on the list for the 50-year Stanford University passout.

Sikka probably speaks for all high-profile executives and the stressful lives when he says, "I've been away from home far too often and far too long."

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