Infosys Ltd’s shares continued to trade under heavy pressure after weak opening on the bourses today on news report that India’s bellwether information technology services company’s original founders are looking to sell their entire 12.75% equity stake and sever their all ties with the firm after a bitter feud with the current management over corporate governance. Infosys scrip, down 1.63% at Rs 940.7 in late morning trade, was the top laggard dragging the benchmark BSE Sensex, which was down 0.12%.
The Times of India reported that founders N R Narayana Murthy, Kris Gopalakrishnan, Nandan Nilekani, S D Shibulal and K Dinesh are planning to cut all their ties with the company they founded back in 1981, which went on to become the flag-bearer of Indian IT success story, as they are unhappy with the way the management led by CEO Vishal Sikka and the board led by Chairman R Seshasayee have operated Infosys after the founder exited three years ago. Infosys has denied the report, which did not mention about the other two of the seven original founders N S Raghavan and Ashok Arora.
Infosys shares have underperformed the benchmark indices, more so in the face of the recent challenges being faced by the Indian IT industry in the form of visa restrictions in the US and other nations, clients shrinking their IT spends and narrowing margins. While the BSE Sensex has returned 17.86% in the last two years and 15.51% in the last one year, Infosys shares have lost 4.38% in two years and 22.77% in the last one year alone.
Infosys has even amended its Articles of Association adding provisions to enable it to buy back its shares, lending further credence to the news about the company mulling a share buyback worth up to $2.5 billion (Rs 17,000 crore), specially as opportunities for huge spurts of growth dry up for Indian IT companies.
Earlier this year, Narayana Murthy, Kris Gopalakrishnan and Nandan Nilekani wrote to the board of Infosys expressing their concerns over corporate governance at the company, including the quantum of salary hike given to the CEO Vishal Sikka, the size of the severance packages given to former CFO Rajiv Bansal and former General Counsel David Kennedy, appointment of independent directors, and allocation of capital.
The displeasure of the founders — known for their humble persona, very low salaries, and economy class air travel — apparently over the modern corporate lifestyle of present executives — including up to $11 million in annual compensation for Vishal Sikka and his use of corporate jet aircraft for personal travel — became a public spectacle.
Infosys tries to clear the air
Narayana Murthy, in a letter which became widely available to the media, questioned the ability of the board led by Non Executive Chairman R Seshasayee on certain decisions taken by the company in the last one year, feeling that the board should have been more proactive in questioning the decisions at their end. Infosys management’s efforts to contain the damage and smooth over the issues with the founder group too sort of backfired with the founders again expressing their unhappiness over the appointment of a law firm for mediation.
R Seshasayee also tried to dispel all allegations of misgovernance, saying that Sikka’s compensation package came with very ambitious targets of meeting its goals set for 2020, and that it was finalised in line with the best global standards to promote Sikka’s longevity in the company and to motivate him to lead the company. At the same time, Seshasayee also admitted that the company might have erred in awarding a high severance package to ex-CFO Rajiv Bansal, adding that out of the agreed Rs 17.38 crore, the company decided to pay Bansal only Rs 5 crore later, with the remaining amount being withheld pending clarifications on the terms of the severance contract.