Meteoric rise of UB Pravin Rao, the accidental (and interim) CEO of Infosys

Time & Us
Last Updated: August 20, 2017 at 4:01 am

Turning point of UB Pravin Rao, who joined Infosys in 1986, came in 2013 when then-chairman NR Narayana Murthy was orchestrating a shake-up. Rao became COO after Murthy left the company in 2014 and Vishal Sikka became the CEO.
For a man who joined Infosys in 1986 at a monthly salary of Rs 1,200 and spent the better part of the last two-and-a-half decades in several operational roles, UB Pravin Rao’s rise within the company over the past three years has been nothing short of meteoric.
In a company like Infosys that over the past two decades has made flashy newspaper headlines for several high-profile executive departures, Rao represents a somewhat rare breed of good old-fashioned delivery and operations manager.
According to several colleagues, fortune has rewarded him for his dogged perseverance.
An Infosys veteran of over three decades, Rao has managed to outlast every one of his more illustrious peers and colleagues such as Phaneesh Murthy, Mohandas Pai, Subhash Dhar, Ashok Vemuri and BG Srinivas and achieved what none of them ever managed to do—become the CEO (ok, interim CEO) arguably India’s most high-profile IT company.
Rao’s turning point at Infosys came in December 2013, when then-chairman and the company’s iconic founder NR Narayana Murthy was orchestrating a massive shake-up inside Infosys as part of his turnaround efforts, which then led to the exits of potential CEO candidates such as Ashok Vemuri, V Balakrishnan and, later in early 2014, BG Srinivas.
From being the head of just one of the company’s several businesses, Rao was swiftly thrust into the role of joint President, with a seat on the board. All of this took place in less than a month.
He then became COO after Murthy left the company in June 2014 and Vishal Sikka became the CEO. Now he finds himself in the hot seat.
According to colleagues of Rao and it was his mentor Murthy who orchestrated his rise. Murthy recognised that Rao deserved a larger role in the scheme of things and quickly promoted him.
For a man who largely avoids the spotlight and prefers to operate quietly, Rao found himself in the middle of a controversy that was not of his own making when the board decided to raise his salary earlier this year—and ironically attracted the ire of his mentor, Murthy.
For a man who has seen Infosys go through several ups and downs over the course of his three-decade career, Rao now faces the biggest test of his tenure at Infosys at the twilight of his career.