Narayana Murthy may open Infosys COO post to outsider

Written by P P Thimmaya | Darlington Jose Hector | Darlington Jose Hector | Bangalore | Updated: Jul 18 2013, 21:52pm hrs
MurthyNarayana Murthy. (Reuters)
Infosys executive chairman NR Narayana Murthy is likely to open up his search for an external candidate, if he is not able to pick an internal person for the role of chief operating officer or a similar function in the company. While top contenders for the role remain his trusted aides board members V Balakrishnan, BG Srinivas and Ashok Vemuri, sources indicate Murthy could spring a surprise.

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While sources said it was still early, Murthy may be willing to bring in an outsider just to bring in fresh perspectives and a new operational style. Infosys has announced that it is keen on improving the internal performance benchmarks, raise the connect level with the customers and chase large deals much more aggressively.

The position of the COO has been kept in the backburner since August 2011, the time SD Shibulal took over as the CEO of the company. Today, Murthy wants to bring back the role as he is burdened with a huge amount of responsibility as over a dozen business vertical heads report directly to him and a COO could lessen this workload. This could also help Murthy focus on larger issues like adapting to new technologies, staying relevant in rapidly changing business context while the COO takes over certain operational responsibilities.

However, sources said that even if Infosys were to bring in an external candidate for the role of COO it has to be someone who can blend in well with the ways of the IT major, considering the insular working style at the company. Its got to be some one who can blend in with Infosys culture, said a source.

Among the internal contenders there is a new name that of Stephen Pratt, the companys senior vice-president and managing partner, worldwide consulting and system integration. The pedigree of Pratt, an American citizen, could help Infosys in refurbishing its image, especially in its largest market US, which has been slightly dented around the H-1B visa issue.

Infosys, when contacted, said, We do not comment on matters pertaining to our internal organisation.

There are, however, industry observers who feel that it would be better for Murthy to choose somebody within Infosys for the role of COO, to ensure continuity in management.

The role of COO at Infosys has always been seen as a precursor to becoming the chief executive officer but Murthy may not want such a though to percolate down the company at this point. Shibulal took over as CEO in August 2011 and with Murthy back as executive chairman, a lot of questions were raised about his tenure at the top job, which is scheduled to end only in 2015. Murthy is unlikely to disturb this arrangement, sources said.

The challenge remains whether the company can raise its leadership levels to match upto the standards set by Murthy and Nandan Nilekani or scout for a CEO from outside who would be able to take Infosys to the next level of growth with high degree of brand visibility.

Brokerage house CLSA in a recent note had said, Murthys return would definitely bring back the operational and review rigour which have been definitely missing during the current CEOs tenure and has resulted in a unidirectional slide in margins and a continuous miss on the companys own financial guidance.