Former MD &CEO, Infosys
It is clear to me that despite our successes over the last three years, and the powerful seeds of innovation that we have sown, I cannot carry out my job as CEO and continue to create value, while also constantly defending against unrelenting, baseless/malicious and increasingly personal attacks. Three years ago, I started this journey with a calling, to help reshape the company around innovation and entrepreneurship, to deliver breakthrough value for clients, and to help elevate our work, our standing, our selves, on the basis of a dual strategy, bringing together dualities of renew and new, automation and innovation, people and software, to show a new path forward in a time of unprecedented disruption within the industry and beyond. That time, around and before June 2014, was a difficult time. Our growth rates were low and attrition was high. There was a sense of apprehension all around and I came here to help enable a great transformation as our core business faced intense pricing pressure, and clients looked increasingly to innovative partners to help shape their digital futures. Now, a bit more than three years later, I am happy to see the company doing better in every dimension I can think of. We have grown our revenues, from $2.13B in Q1FY15 to $2.65B this past Q1. We did so while keeping a strong focus on margins, closing this past quarter at 24.1% operating margin, beating some competitors for the first time in many years, and improving against most in our industry. Perhaps more importantly, our revenue per employee has grown for six quarters in a row. Our attrition has fallen, from 23.4% in Q1FY15 to 16.9% this past Q1, and high performer attrition is hovering at or below the single-digit threshold for a while now.
We grew our $100M+ clients from 12 when I started, to 19, and increased our large deal wins from ~$1.9B in FY15 to ~$3.5B this past year. We have done all this while improving our overall utilisation, to a 10-yr high this past quarter, and an all-time high including trainees, while improving our cash reserves, rewarding employees with a new equity plan, and returning cash to our stakeholders. And we have done all this while improving our standing with clients to the highest ever in the 12 years since we’ve done our client satisfaction survey, and a jump of 22 points in CxO satisfaction. A few days ago, Nitesh, Radha, and I met a client in our office in Palo Alto. It is one of the largest companies in the world—and the CIO was excited and proud about seeing automation come to life in their landscape. Her reaction to seeing many of our innovation projects, as well as our workspace itself, was thoroughly rewarding, and a testament to all we have achieved.
She requested us to bring our innovative work and processes to everything we do with her team in a similar space, and even that we help them establish a similar presence for their company in the Valley! This is a sentiment I’ve often heard from clients who’ve visited our 12,000 sqft space here, that has seen 2,200 visits over its ~27 months; clients where we saw much faster than average revenue growth following their visits. So, as I look back on the three years as CEO, what brings me the most joy is the new roads that all of you have travelled, the new frontiers that all of you have enabled. From embracing the new ideas in education, teaching ourselves Design Thinking like no one else ever has, learning AI, new development processes, and more, to applying these learnings via Zero Distance (ZD), a one-of-a-kind programme of massive grassroots innovation, powered by education, by the amazing Zero Bench, and by your creative confidence.
With 16,500+ ideas generated, 2,200+ of which have already been implemented, ZD is proof that innovation need not be the domain of a chosen few in some elite department, but is the prerogative of us all; proof that the extraordinary within each one of us can indeed be unleashed. To complement this grassroots innovation, we have launched 25+ new services that contributed 8.3% of our revenue last quarter, up from zero in April 2015. And our own new software business is now at 1.6% of revenue. Our AI platform, Nia, now with 160+ scenarios deployed at more than 70 clients, is helping drive both automation within the company, and breakthrough new business scenarios outside. Beyond new services and new software, we’ve ventured into new horizons, from our startup fund’s investments in promising new businesses, to the work we’ve done in the last 3 years in local hiring around the world to the exemplary and inspiring work our US foundation has done in bringing computer science education and a culture of making, to the masses.
I was, and remain, passionate about the massive transformation opportunity for this company and industry, but we all need to allow the company to move beyond the noise and distractions. Back in May 2014, when I first met many board colleagues, I thought of the road ahead as a road for the next 33 years of this iconic company. For Infosys is more than a company: it is an idea, a dream, a pioneering possibility. Back then I thought, just as I do today, that the time ahead called for a company that could show the way to a digital future, a future where our humanity, amplified by automation and software, would unleash our creativity, our imagination. Such an Infosys, whilst staying true to its core, to her values and timeless principles, would shine the light in an altogether different context, a different reality.
Such an Infosys would be one where an individual’s entrepreneurship, ability to imagine and create, ability to learn, and to amplify herself with software, with AI, would create a greater whole. Three years later, we can clearly see that the seeds of this idea have taken root. For sure, this journey has been a difficult one. No one, especially me, thought it would be easy. Transformations are hard to begin with. A massive transformation, of such an iconic institution, with such groundbreaking achievements behind her, would be even tougher, and the exponential rates of change all around us, further amplified by geopolitical matters, would add that much more headwind. But all this was known, and clear, and in many ways added to the calling that I felt. For as the legendary architect Daniel Burnham said, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir man’s blood.”
But after much contemplation I have decided to leave because the distractions, the very public noise around us, have created an untenable atmosphere. I deeply believe in creating value in an atmosphere of freedom, trust and empowerment. Life is too short to engage in battles of opinions in the public, these add no value, take critical time and focus away from the business, and indeed add more to the noise, to the eardrum buzz. The founding principle of the strategy I laid out for our renewal was personal empowerment, working in an entrepreneurial environment. I need this for my own work as well. Steve Jobs, in his famous commencement speech at my alma mater, said: “Your time is limited, don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living the result of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other opinions drown your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition, they somehow already know what you truly want to become.”
I now need to move forward, and return to an environment of respect, trust and empowerment, where I can take on new lofty challenges. Over the next weeks and months, I look forward to working with the Board and management to create a smooth transition. As I completed my three years recently, many people asked me if I have any regrets. This question is more apt today and the answer is a clear NO. Not for a second. However difficult the noise of the last several months has been, I wouldn’t trade our time together for anything. Together we have achieved a lot. Even in the midst of all of the distractions, even as the tendency was to return to the familiar, we still managed to persevere and make wonderful progress.
Excerpted from Mr Sikka’s letter to Infosys employees. The letter, in full, can be viewed on his blog (goo.gl/CpKDCs)