Quitting Infosys one of hardest decisions of my life: Vishal Sikka

Time & Us
Last Updated: August 25, 2017 at 3:03 am

Bengaluru: Technocrat Vishal Sikka termed his dramatic resignation as CEO of the global software major Infosys as one of the hardest decisions of his life.

“It was one of the hardest decisions of my life, but I feel that it had to be done,” Sikka, 50, told ‘Forbes India’ in his first interview since his decision to quit on August 18 caught stakeholders unawares and tanked the IT major’s stock to a three-year low of Rs 884.20 on the bourse.

Though the company’s Board accepted Sikka’s resignation, it appointed him as Executive Vice-Chairman on an annual salary of $1 till the new CEO takes over by March 31, 2018.

Quoting German novelist Hermann Hesse in the context of his exit from the iconic company three years after he joined as its first non-founder CEO in 2014, Sikka said he believed in living gracefully and letting go of things not meant for him though some think holding on makes them strong.

“It is freedom from the known that helps you renew yourself,” asserted Sikka, who has been inspired by the teachings of Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurthi.

On his achievements, he said: “We grew revenues steadily while keeping a strong focus on margins, closing the first quarter of 2017-18 at 24.1 percent operating margin, beating our competitors for the first time in many years.” Meanwhile, revenue per employee grew for six quarters in a row.

Sikka however said that his departure would “not stall the company’s push into AI, automation, computing and data analytics”.

Asked if he thought Indian promoters found it difficult to give up control over a company after handing over the reins to professional CEOs, he said that he would not like to generalise or comment on it.

“I don’t think we can make generalisations of it. I want to say the world is going through profound change in terms of landscape, manufacturing, retail, telecom or even services, as everything has undergone seismic changes on the back of new digital technologies, computing and now AI,” he said.

On what he would do for the company as its Vice-Chairman over the next seven months of his tenure, Sikka said: “I want to help with the transition, find a good management team and help (COO-turned-interim CEO U.B.) Pravin (Rao) establish this.

“I also want to help institutionalise some of the initiatives and strategies, and maintain relationships with key clients, as Infosys is a people’s company and employees make it all matter.”

A doctorate in Artificial Intelligence from Stanford University, Sikka was inspired over two decades ago by the meteoric rise of the ‘Bengaluru Tigers’, Indian tech start-ups incubated by a bunch of smart entrepreneurs. Two of them were Infosys co-founders N.R. Narayana Murthy and Nandan Nilekani, who were also his heroes.

Known as a disruptor in the Silicon Valley for creating German tech giant SAP’s Hana platform, Sikka agreed to join Infosys on a call from its former Chairman K.V. Kamath in 2014, months after leaving SAP as its Executive Director.

When Sikka made a presentation on how to transform a traditional software services firm like Infosys, Murthy, who was then Chairman on return from retirement to revive the company’s sagging fortunes, liked it and hired him.

Sikka, however, expected non-interference and support from Murthy, and would have never imagined that three years after presiding over a massive overhaul at Infosys, which started showing results, he would walk away from the very thing that had consumed him, said the magazine.

“Ultimately, Sikka reached a point where personal attacks (by Murthy) took a toll on his ability to make changes. Even investors were disappointed by his exit, as he bolstered its shares 20 per cent during his three-year challenging tenure,” said Forbes.