That’s what Nandan Nilekani’s first job was
Given the high-pitched accusations levelled by Infosys founder NR Narayana Murthy that led to the resignation of CEO Vishal Sikka and chairman R Seshasayee, calming the waters was never going to be easy. Three independent agencies had conducted investigations into the acquisition of both Panaya as well as the severance package given to former CFO Rajiv Bansal. While all had given a clean chit, Murthy was not convinced and levelled his accusations—not only did the then Board respond strongly against what it called a “campaign” and say that Murthy “has made repeatedly inappropriate demands”, when Sikka resigned, he talked of how the daily sniping was making it difficult for him to carry on. Given Murthy’s trust in co-founder Nandan Nilekani who was roped in after Seshasayee resigned, it was left to him to look at all the accusations and investigations afresh. With the post-Sikka-Seshasayee board reaffirming “the previous findings of external investigations that there is no merit in the allegations of wrongdoing”, it is painfully obvious that the two were just hounded out on the basis of suspicion and innuendo; what makes this all the more worrying for Infosys is that Sikka was in the middle of successfully charting out a transformation at the software bellwether, to enable it to deal with new-age technologies and to focus more on products. Interestingly, after the 8-week “comprehensive strategy refresh exercise”, the new Board has more or less ratified Sikka’s strategy.
Not surprisingly, given how vicious the battle between the then board and Murthy had got—the latter even hinted at the high severance payments being a kind of hush money—Murthy has expressed his disappointment with the new board under Nilekani since it did not answer any of the questions raised by him. What’s important to see, however, is whether Murthy now stops his sniping, for that is vital to Infosys’s future. The boardroom battle made it impossible for any CEO to function, so if Infosys is to be able to move ahead, its new CEO needs to be assured he/she is going to be allowed to do the job in peace. By putting an end to the innuendo and refusing to engage in a long-drawn discussion of the past, Nilekani has fulfilled the first part of his mandate—to put an end to the hostility and to assure the new CEO that his/her main job is to focus on ensuring Infosys is able to successfully navigate the increasingly turbulent waters in the tech sector. Now to find a full-time CEO and exit Infosys to concentrate on what Nilekani was doing before he stepped back in—to help put together a comprehensive strategy to ensure that the country is best able to leverage/protect the reams of data now being generated 24×7 with more than a billion Aadhaars and mobiles, increasing e-commerce and the linking of data across all producers and consumers in the country through the GST system.