Murthy 2.0

DQI Bureau
New Update

The recall of NR Narayana Murthy, the legendary founder of software giant Infosys Technologies, as the executive chairman of the company has been hailed by media, analysts, stock market, and industry peers, barring an occasional critic. His return is seen as a move to rejuvenate the company he set up in 1981.


The return bets on his legendary leadership, which unfortunately, only a few of his successors displayed or projected since he turned 65 and quit in 2011 to don the title of chairman emeritus. The June 1 move threw the corporate myth of ‘no one is indispensable', out of the window. So now we have a sobriquet, Mr Indispensable, to add a string of leadership traits-visionary, sincere, and fearless.

Though surprising, this move is not unique in the IT industry. Globally, Yahoo!'s Jerry Yang, Dell's Michael Dell, and Apple's Steve Jobs-founders of leading IT companies-have returned to the driver's seat to bring back heady days of growth. The results in three cases have meandered between red, amber, and green. While accepting the new role, Murthy admitted that he was and will always be a soldier of Infosys.

For a principled founder, it must have been exceptionally troubling to see his ‘middle child' get internal and external bashing, that he chose to break two self imposed tenets -retirement age of 65 and that founders' families wouldn't be a part of the business.


I see retreat of KV Kamath, one of the finest managers, as his strength to admit that Murthy is better equipped to lead Infosys. KV Kamath, the man who thought of getting the master blaster back on the pitch understood that besides restoring confidence among clients it will re-energize and motivate the 150,000 strong Infosians.

Once the dream company of engineering students and was known for its sprawling campuses, multiple cafeteria serving a variety of cuisines, a world class learning campus at Mysore, golf courses, and state-of-the-art infrastructure, is no longer the first choice among students.



As an architect of Infosys value system CLIFE-Customer focus, Leadership by example, Integrity and Transparency, Fairness, and Excellence-Murthy needs to deliberate on niggling questions around people and leadership development.

The fact that four of the six founders rose to be the CEOs of Infosys points to a culture that is more ‘clannish' (or family oriented) where organization concentrates on internal maintenance with concern for people and sensitivity for customers. Was it not incumbent upon Murthy to train, coach, and prepare high-performers beyond the three co-founders to lead? If Murthy knew Shibulal to be a great executor why did Infosys not continue with Kris Gopalakrishnan as the CEO.


While no one organization culture is superior to another, strategy and culture need to be aligned at all times. The ‘clannish' culture helped Infosys grow and most of the Infosys' values were also linked to Narayana Murthy's personal values.



The hero coming back to support his organization and his country is a myth often seen in movies and recounted in story books. And the hero understands that the times have changed and the organization too. Murthy needs to reflect on a few questions before he sets out to lead the organization; is the current culture helping Infosys grow? If not, can he dive culture change in Infosys? Did Infosys have a process to identify and nurture young high potential leaders who could step in to take bigger roles and responsibilities?

Whatever the answers to these questions are, it is clear that cosmetic shifts and transactional changes will not be enough to put the organization in the new trajectory of growth.

The latest Infosys annual report says, "The nominations committee...the board plan for an orderly succession of leadership within the board and the company, and maintain contingency plans for succession in case of any exigency." Pity that when the exigency arose, it chose to fall back on its founding CEO.


By following the policy of promoting founders to the CEO positions, Infosys created fewer opportunities for high performers among board members. For a truly global business that Infosys represents it is surprising that none of the four business heads who serve Infosys board as whole-time directors are non-Indians. (The other two whole-time directors are founders).

There are reports that the search process for the next CEO has been initiated to replace SD Shibulal when he will retire in 2014. It is again a discomforting signal for the top leadership amid reports that some of them may be head hunted to lead other IT firms.


That Murthy will staff chairman's office with his team from Catamaran, including his son Rohan Murty, who holds office co-terminus with his own term is a step that needs to be reconsidered. If the institution of chairman's office is to be continued, it would be best to add the team to the Infosys manpower pool than to pluck it out after five years.

Infosys will do well to take a leaf out of the book of two of its competitors-TCS and Cognizant-which have much younger CEOs than Infosys.

For now, it appears Infosys can only get better under Narayana Murthy as long as he identifies, nurtures, and prepares more leaders at Infosys who are better than himself.