Objection, your honor !


Although I have spent a lot of time with lawyers reviewing contracts and stuff, I have never set foot in a court room in my life.  But, I have always loved court room drama in movies. I love the debate between opposing sides, with a judge providing guard rails and taking a decision based on evidence, laws and consistency.

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The first line I picked up as a child from the Malayalam movies I grew up with was  “Objection, your honor !”.  This usually involves one lawyer jumping up dramatically from his seat to register his objection to what the opposing side is saying. The judge would then make a determination via “Objection sustained” or “Objection overruled”. The beauty of the system – at least as shown in movies – is that all sides agree and move on once the judge makes a determination. Worst case, one side presses on after the judge ruled, and a strict warning gets issued which returns the situation to an equilibrium.

I have not seen a movie yet where the lawyer who is asked to stand down then throws a fit and leaves the court, and sends in his resignation from his phone :).

For a long time, I consulted to a client who had this culture in their DNA. They called it “Disagree and commit” and practiced it religiously.

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Literally anyone in the meeting can – respectfully – challenge any prevailing wisdom that is  being discussed. As long as the eventual decision was not opposed to company values, and did not have ethical/legal type issues – people who originally disagreed with the decision also commit to make it successful. Decisions were not always democratic – sometimes it was just a leader taking a judgement call . Having watched it play out for a long time – they largely followed through on that promise. That company went from strength to strength. It also helped shape my philosophy early on about stellar team performance in a big way.

“Disagree and commit” is EXTREMELY HARD ! . And it only gets harder as you take on more senior roles . A lot of things need to fall in to place for this to work well.

To begin with, you need some conviction that the rest of the team is at least as smart as you – if not smarter. If you consistently think the rest of team are dumb asses who just don’t get it, you will only ever disagree – you will never commit ! .

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The resolution varies from you getting coaching to get a fresh perspective, the team getting redesigned (perhaps by excluding you) , or you finding a team where you fit better and trust and respect the folks around to you.

Since decision making needs to happen frequently in any team – its usually too late to resolve this dilemma post facto. The smart thing to do (whenever you can) is to be very careful where you choose to work, and who you work for.

It is quite possible that you are the smartest person in the team and the rest of them truly don’t get it. This is a true test of leadership. The make or break here is empathy – whether you can put yourself in their shoes, and reframe your point of view to change their thinking. Its also a test of your own ability to make trade offs. Can you live with yourself if the mission fails ? Is it better to not rock the boat and risk losing your job with a mortgage to pay and two kids in school ? Can the team course correct if you succeed to show them half way through that the original idea was not the best ?

One tactic I have used with better than modest success, to commit to something I have disagreed with, is to get the team to set up a few early milestones as check points.

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This is not always possible – some times they are “all or nothing” commitments . Yet, whenever possible, it helps to minimize potential damage. I readily admit that some times such check points have proved me wrong ( so much for my strong belief that I was the one who was smartest in the gang) .

What if you truly can’t live with yourself with the decision that the team agreed on ? You wholeheartedly disagree – but you just can’t commit. Hopefully these are few and far between scenarios (If they are not, most certainly you should quickly take help from your coaches and mentors).

The first thing to do here is to make a determination whether you can let the team do what they agreed to do without causing any additional roadblocks yourself actively or passively. When we are experts in an area – we tend to think in extremes. Everything that could go wrong, we will assume they will go wrong, and horribly so.

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The truth is that only very few risks have high probability to occur and high impact if they actually do occur. So perhaps you can help the team identify those, and provide ideas to mitigate – as opposed to just dismiss the whole idea summarily.

There is also the idea to resort to “policy by lapse”. The idea is like “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a bit and it will change”.

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This could also work, if used occasionally. Unfortunately I have known many who choose this as first and only way – and they become a boat anchor on their team’s neck. The first chance they get, the team will get rid of you from their midst. Ergo – use with extreme caution !

If none of that work,  the next thing to explore is to find something else to do – in your current team, or elsewhere. While you are searching, you need to find a way to minimize spreading negativity. By spreading negativity, you will continue to be miserable, make others miserable, and earn the kind of reputation that will be hard to shake off.

It is never easy to go find another team if you just realized you need to do it and you have only 3 days to do it. Unless you are on par with Elon Musk – You should assume throughout that you need Plan B and Plan C at all points, and keep them refreshed periodically.

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All those things like having an active network, keeping your skills sharp, letting the world know of what makes you special etc – they are essentials in your career for a reason !

I will make one last point before I sign off. If you are miserable and are looking for your next adventure, don’t just go looking for what open opportunities exist in your network. A focused “This is what I would like to do, and here is why. Can you help?” ( being careful to not come across as arrogant) will trump the generic “Here are my skills and experience, is there anything open that suits me?” most days.

 

 

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Harmony, thy name is Tokyo !


There are very few things I hate like long flights – I am the biggest baby when it comes to complaining about plane rides. Don’t blame me – blame the last couple of decades of weekly air travel 🙂 . I was hopeful that 2017 was going to be the first year without international travel in my career. It had even taken me till November to make exec platinum in AA – as opposed to the usual May/June time frame.

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But then came this 3 day meeting in Tokyo, Japan that I really had to attend. Grudgingly I told my admin Thelma to figure out my travel plans. Turns out, on the outbound from LA to Tokyo, I could not get upgraded. Given I am vertically and horizontally not a fit for the smaller seats in back of the plane, it started hurting even before I left home !

Finally – after what seemed like 700 hours – the plane landed in Tokyo . I was already dreading the long immigration line seeing literally hundreds of people walking along with me from other planes. Then came the first surprise – it barely took 5 minutes to get through immigration and customs and into the cab to go to the hotel. Japanese efficiency – not that I did not know this earlier – is breath taking every single time you encounter it.

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The same goes for cleanliness aesthetics. Every square inch is spotless everywhere – including construction sites. And everyone – without exception – is super polite, almost to a fault. It is not superficial – they just go out of their way to make sure you are happy.  As I walked into the lobby of the Royal Park hotel , I saw everyone including the manager helping set up this flower arrangement. They kept rearranging till everyone there felt 100% happy about it – that’s how they roll !

Jet lag played spoil sport every night this trip – but on the bright side (?), I knew exactly what time I will wake up ( 3 AM sharp) before going to bed. All the experience of suffering from it for two decades does come in handy this way 🙂

The meeting was in IBM Japan office, a short walk away from the hotel. It houses several IBM teams – from research, engineering, GBS, Sales….and some of the coolest research on Watson happens in the TRL ( Tokyo Research Lab).

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I got to tour the THINK Lab here and got a demo on their cutting edge “Galaxy” platform ( not Samsung…just a code name). I don’t think I have been this geeked out in ages. Just as with everyone else I met this trip, the Japanese colleagues who hosted us this week were the nicest and most professional people I have ever met. They set the bar really high !

Monday night, we had a team dinner. It is a cultural experience I will never get tired of. Thanks to Nagayama San, I also now am a fan of schochu, the local spirit distilled from potatoes or sweet potatoes. A cultural nuance I picked up was that the common practice is to pour beverages for the next person and have them return you the favor. I thought that is such a beautiful way to bond.

The food (and shochu) just keeps coming – perfectly presented – and the wait staff just goes out of their way to make sure they explain everything to you and make sure you can enjoy your meal to the fullest. No one rushes a meal here – which I also admire about Spain.

One of my colleagues, Al,  is gluten intolerant. One of the waiters practically adopted him as her son for the evening and got everything specially made for him. . And seeing Al using chopsticks like a pro, our Japanese friends were telling us that they regret that a lot of kids in Japan can’t use them properly these days.

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The second night, Al and I went to the famous Nobu restaurant for some sushi. I have already eaten at their restaurants before – but nothing comes close to Sushi in Japan. The Otoro (fatty tuna belly that melts in your mouth) is addictive. And the other one I loved was the Octopus – which they serve completely raw, unlike the lightly boiled version usually served elsewhere. As I was singing its praises later that night to the bar tender at our hotel, he said “I won’t go to Nobu till they become a real sushi place again – They serve California rolls, and that is not sushi”. Looking at how busy the restaurant was, I am guessing Nobu would take that risk 🙂

Third day, I had some time to kill before my (upgraded, thank you god) flight back home. So I took the subway to check out the Tokyo Skytree.

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Skytree is  a magnificent piece of architecture and an engineering Marvel. It was fascinating to get a 360 degree view from the observation decks on top of it. Tokyo is densely packed with high rises, but within that concrete jungle – they have little patches of trees, sports facilities, pools and so on all neatly arranged around water ways.

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Skytree is very close to the Senso-ji temple, which is the oldest of its kind in Tokyo . It was built in the 7th century.

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The similarity with Indian temples is remarkable. Even some of the rituals seem rather similar to what is practiced in India. Its amazing how they keep such serenity in the middle of a very busy modern city.

It also houses an old market that sells pastries, and kimonos and a bunch of souvenirs. I also obliged a bunch of young students, who looked to be my daughter’s age in taking their pictures ( some 200 times to make sure every angle is covered. Each kid who asked me for a photo wore a kimono and spoke perfect English, and had earplugs on 🙂

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On the way back, I got lost with direction and ended up walking the wrong way for a couple of minutes trying to figure out which way is the train station. I did not find the train station, but when I looked up I saw an Andhra restaurant right in front of me.

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Despite my love for Japanese food – I HAD to try this. Nothing spectacular but pretty decent Andhra thali and fairly inexpensive for Tokyo. It was also fun to talk to owner in Hindi for a while . That dude speaks fluent Japanese and I was the only Indian in the joint – apparently Japanese folks like Indian food a lot. Who knew 🙂

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The harmony of old and new co-existing was driven home as I looked at the skyline. There was the big skytree and the smaller but eye catching tower of the temple both in one frame.

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It made me think about IBM and other companies that have been transforming . I also thought about my own life and realized the struggle of how much of the old do I need to retain while embracing the new. It is extremely hard to find harmony between the old and the new. But when it happens, its beautiful – like Tokyo.

I will be back with my wife and daughter soon !

 

 

And Cape says – T school was epic !

And Cape says – T school was epic !


I have long held the belief that the most value for clients happen when consultants are polymaths – with world class business skills combined with world class technical skills . I was one of the fortunate ones who had opportunities to strike a balance between business and technology throughout my career , and nothing makes me more happy than helping my younger colleagues who want to take that journey.

It’s not always easy – people in this field tend to polarize to either extreme , instead of developing “T shape” skills with breadth and depth . And it’s not a one time educational event that gets us there – it needs a life long passion for learning from the individual and a well thought out plan from the organization .

Late last year, I was asked by our North America leader Ismail Amla to sponsor the Bee school – our new core consulting school . Turns out that Ismail was a rock star Cobol programmer at the time he started his career !!

It was an eye opening experience to work with our Learning and Knowledge team and get the Bee school up and running . We piloted it in March and by now about 1500 senior managers, managers and senior consultants have gone through that program. Once that was well under way, I wanted to create an equivalent school to focus on the technology side and that is how we created the T school .

Ismail and Jesus Mantas were immediately on board. When I presented the idea to Mark Foster ( he runs GBS world wide) this summer, he threw his support behind it immediately and I realized that like Ismail and Jesus , Mark is a huge fan of consultants developing the “T shape” skill sets .

Jesus calls such consultants “DaVinci consultants” !

My CTO Priya calls them Generalist specialists !

We piloted with an AI school in Columbus, OH . And that is where I first met Cape – and became his friend 🙂

Cape was a gift to IBM from our Sterling commerce acquisition . I found him in a closet in my office in Columbus and thought he would be the perfect brand ambassador for T school . We called him “The Monkey” since he didn’t have a name and he started taking a place of honor in all our meetings . Turns out, he doesn’t have a tail and hence is an Ape . So we thought why not make him a Cognitive Ape who can talk ?

My dear friend Teresa Hamid who runs the Columbus center took up the challenge and her team started calling him the Cognitive Ape as Cape .

He became the host of T school and even introduced me to the class of 100 young consultants and their faculty last week in Philadelphia , and answered my questions . By next school, his cognition will improve to also include vision ! I am told he might do a little dance number too 🙂

An initiative of this magnitude takes a village to come together , and that is exactly what happened . L&K team from North America and Global both jumped in with both feet and started putting a structure around it. My thanks to Debi Steinbacher, Christian Dick, Andreana Miller, Lorraine Rapuano, Kim Morick, Yee Min Ching, Emily Rosenblatt, Patsy Horgan, Suzanna Fishman , Vonda Massingill, Laurie Brage and Walt Zborowski.

And a special thanks to Nate Keating for helping me get this done on top of everything else going on in my day job. I could not have done it without you my friend !

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Every leader in the business we asked for help pitched in too. We did one class on AI in Columbus as a pilot , felt confident, and set to do a full school in October in PHL. Some of the students from Columbus event signed up for PHL as well – becoming our first set of polymath consultants from this batch !

We did a thorough analysis of the market, our offerings and skill needs and decided on Watson AI , data science , full stack development and Watson IOT classes to run in inaugural T school .

Then came the instructors – most of whom I hand picked from amongst the best consultants in the field . The quality of this gang needs to be seen to be believed !

Debi and I enlisted my friend Lorraine to help teach the faculty on how to be good facilitators . Many years ago, Lorraine taught the class of newly promoted senior managers and I was one of her students . Ever since I have been her number one fan ! As always she did a fantastic job .

Debi Steinbacher who runs NA L&K, assigned Andreana Miller to be my partner in T school . I could not have asked for a better partner – she totally took this to a level higher than I expected . Can’t wait to see where she takes us next!

The faculty and the nominated track leaders did an amazing job developing the curriculum in a few short sprints . At one point I thought this was way too much to try and teach in a week – but I was so glad to be proven wrong . When people love learning something new – their ability to stretch is unbelievable. It was beautiful to see the students over come the early struggles and then start to enjoy the new learning muscles they developed .

Thanks to our global team, we managed to get ten of our most popular offerings to be made available for the students to play with in the “Cognitive Playground” . That probably was the signature aspect of the event and I definitely will do more of it in future .

Special thanks to Kevin, our world class caterer ( honest to god his Guacamole is impossible to stop eating) and to my dear friend Christian Rodatus , CEO of Datameer, who sponsored the evenings appetizers and drinks.

Every morning we had a couple of guest speakers – senior IBM executives who presented short sessions and then joined me for “ask me anything” sessions . It is our fourth quarter and these leaders are needed in a hundred different places – but they found time to come to T school and share their experience and give candid answers to tonnes of questions. My sincere thanks to Sharon Hodgson, Pat Eskew, Terry Hickey, Shannon Todd-Olson, Ron Koch, Roy Zahut, Janine Sneed, Sherry Savage, Priya Vijayarajendran , Teresa Hamid and Priya Raman . That was quite the demonstration of the IBM leadership culture !

To my pleasant surprise, the quality of questions were on par with any I have had with the senior most audiences I have presented to in past . We were asked about topics ranging from AI ethics , future of education to how to train dogs 🙂

It was one big happy family – we even celebrated a birthday for our young friend Passion, who is also a top gymnast !

Since the formal definition of an engineer is one that takes in lots of pizza and beer and converts it magically to code, we had plenty of food and beverages to go around. Special thanks to Vonda for making sure everyone was well fed while learning. It was also good to see everyone having a lot of fun – I could always count on finding faculty and students at the hotel bar or lounge late at night, talking with the same high energy I saw in the classes.

Every night the teams spent some time putting together their new found skills into a solution that competed for the prize on Friday. The 14 teams had people from AI, Data science, IOT and Full stack backgrounds.  Predictably this went into an overdrive on Thursday night and they were hacking well into the wee hours of the morning. That showed when they made their 5 minute pitches – shark tank style – to the judging panels.

I sat in on one of the panels with Jesus and Shannon – and we were blown away by the quality of work demonstrated by the young colleagues. Not only were they VERY cool and sophisticated technically, the business case was well articulated as well. I am starting to think I should get some of my VC and PE friends to be on the panel in the next school.

Just before we closed out the school, we distributed a copy of The Originals to the students. The students in turn signed a copy of the book for me – and I read through the comments on my flight back home from PHL to PHX. Now I know you will absolutely make a dent in the universe !

Cape and I are both convinced that the future of IBM is in safe hands with our young “Da Vinci” colleagues – this 105 year old company is well poised for the next 100 years ! And we are happy to be their chief cheer leaders 🙂

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Teachers’ Day – A few fond memories


Today is September 5th , and in India it is celebrated as “Teachers’ day” , in honor of Dr. S. Radhakrishnan who was the second President of India and probably the best comparative religion/philosophy scholar of his time .

My late grandfather, R. Easwara Pillai, was a history professor in University of Kerala. He was the first teacher I ever met – and till date he remains the best teacher in my mind . His ability to explain History , Politics and Economics in simple terms with lots of examples and stories was what kindled a life long interest for me in those subjects .

In Kindergarten ( At Kayankulam St.Mary’s ), my favorite teacher was Ms Kochurani . It amazes me that I remember her name but can’t remember her face any more. But I do remember her visiting our home every few weeks and bringing story books for me to read !

In elementary school (Chinmaya Vidyalaya ) , my favorite was Mrs Nirmala Mathrubhootam. She would take us out of the class room and make us gather around the big trees in the school yard and talk to us about nature , how trees get their food and how they help clean up the pollution.

In junior high (Christ Nagar), there were two stand out teachers . Both of them taught English – Mr Appukuttan Nair and Rev Fr Berthold CMI . The former took away my fear for the language and the latter taught me the nuances of “Spoken English” . I had no idea at that time how impactful those lessons would be in my future.

Pre-Degree ( Govt Arts College ) had some super star teachers – the two I remember the most are Prof Mohan Kumar who taught Organic Chemistry and Prof Jayaprakash who taught Physics. They had absolute mastery over their subjects and demanded excellence from their students .

Then came four years of Mechanical Engineering (T.K.M college) and the first time I really understood that the world has as many bad teachers as it had good teachers. For me there is no doubt who had the most impact on me – that was Prof Nasser who taught us Automobile Engineering . What put him in a class of his own was his passion for the subject – he loved cars and it showed in how he would explain the design principles .

And finally MBA ( IMK , Kerala ) which was probably the two years I enjoyed the most as a student. There were two professors that I gave “rock star” status right after their first lecture, and I can safely say that I have not seen anyone better in those subjects ever since . One was Dr Kevin who taught financial management and the other was Prof Kalyanaraman who taught Statistics . Even today I refer back to my old lecture notes from their classes to refresh the first principles. A close second to these two was the late Dr MNV Nair who was the dean of management studies , and his classes on strategy management were brilliant . He – and Dr Kevin – encouraged us to challenge them and I (and many others) did and learned from that experience . I remember him telling me after a debate on business law that he lost that ” You did well,young man . I am fiercely loyal to my own ideas – but only till someone proves me wrong” .

I have left off several great teachers in the list – but I am grateful to all of them . I will echo Dr. Radhakrishnan’s point of view as my parting note – “Teachers should be the best minds in the country”.

The new Uber CEO’s primary challenge


I think Uber board picked an amazing leader as the new CEO , despite all the leaks and drama and all around it . With adult supervision from the new boss and hiring experienced leaders to work for him in various functions , I think a lot of their current problems with culture , litigation , board politics, driver retention etc will get resolved .

Solving the current problems is unfortunately just table stakes really . The fundamental question in my mind is whether Uber has a sustainable business model . How long can they capture growth by subsidizing costs when we are talking in multiple billions ?

Clearly, they have made some mis-steps by trying to optimize for market share at all costs . So getting out of some international markets was a necessary step , and I expect more of the same for near future . Getting out of leasing also seems like a smart thing to do .

I am a firm believer that driverless cars will become a mainstream reality soon – between google , Tesla , uber and many others putting their might behind it – it’s only a matter of time . But that time is not in next couple of years . So for foreseeable future , they have to subsidize human drivers and figure out better ways to retain drivers . And then there will be a period where self driving cars and human driven cars will do-exist . And some time in far future – perhaps they can switch to mostly driverless cars ( assuming they have the legal and political backing to do so in the major markets ). Will investors agree to bleeding money for that long ?

Also – when they do mostly driverless cars, wouldn’t they just incur even more costs for owning ( or leasing ) and maintaining a big fleet ? And my guess is that insurance cost will be quite high for the in-between period where they need both human driven and self driving cars .

Not sure how to correctly extrapolate here – but my best guess is that for next decade it is not going to make profitable revenue with the “cheap taxi” business alone , while also capturing significant chunks of the global market.

While uber is getting out of some geographic markets, it’s definitely entering some adjacencies – like trucks and boats. But the business model is still the same – so all the problems with the economic model of taxis should apply to boats and trucks too .

First mover advantage is with uber – but there is always the significant risk of fast followers who can learn from Uber’s mistakes and avoid the heavy initial capital investments and expenses .

If private markets are fine with all this and Uber just chooses to remain privately held for a very long time – none of this might be an issue . But going to public markets without proving out their business model seems like mission impossible . Even in private market, my suspicion is that they cannot sustain the $69B valuation given all the economic issues . And a loss in valuation might start a round of talent attrition which might make it really hard to execute on whatever roadmap the new CEO puts in place .

So all things considered – I think the main challenge for the new Uber CEO might not be the things in the news now . They are all no doubt important problems to solve , and unless he solves them first – there might not even be a chance to change the business model . But the true fight in my mind is to figure out how to run this business as a sustainable enterprise , while preserving as much of the valuation as possible .

Given the size of the short term and long term challenges for uber – I hope the CEO, the board and the staff of Uber have the stamina to do a few marathons back to back !

Vishal Sikka leaves Infosys – An arranged marriage that ended in a divorce !


Just as I was about to hit the sack yesterday night , I got the news that Vishal has submitted his resignation and moved to a executive vice chairman role . I was not surprised – for at least the last year, I felt it was just a when question, not an if question .

The story of Vishal’s tenure at Infosys and his exit yesterday follows the plot of the average Indian “flood of tears, and well dressed rich people” TV serial . It goes like this in general …

Groom’s parents finds a beautiful and highly educated bride for their son and parades her around friends and family . Then at some point, the in-laws get buyer’s remorse ( jealousy of bride being smarter than their own kids and immediate family is the usual story line ) and starts a routine of mental torture . The dutiful young bride tries to make it work despite the hostile environment for a long time, due to her kindness of heart and respect for tradition – but finally with the support of friends and mentors , says “screw it, I am divorcing the guy”. And even at the divorce court , the teary eyed guy says “But I still love you” while he signs the court paperwork . He might even break into a long monologue about how his parents didn’t do the right thing , but he wishes his now ex-wife well ! The newly free young woman also does her monologue on how hard she tried to make it all work , but realized the abuse was too much and life is too short to stay at it . And throughout the story you keep seeing crying children who are torn apart .

There is a very cruel joke about the “in-laws – bride” story – which goes “I don’t care if my brother dies in the process , All I want is to see my sister-in-law’s tears” .

Well – it was quite the drama, to say the least . I applaud Vishal for hanging in there all this time and putting a brave front to the external world even when the founders did everything they could to undermine his position .

Infosys is an iconic company . When people of my generation came out of college , we wanted to join one amongst TCS, Wipro or Infosys . Apart from Vishal and many other ex-SAP colleague, I have several friends who work there and who care deeply about the company .So it is painful for me to watch this , even though I am not directly affected by it .

Culture change is a hard task for anyone – and there are more failures than successes when it comes to large scale transformations . It was a brilliant experiment to bring in a software veteran to turn around a services company . Some experiments succeed and some fail – this one failed rather miserably and there are probably many reasons for it . But it should not be forgotten that it’s easy to fail and really hard to succeed , and by adding distractions – the founders and the media certainly didn’t increase the odds of success .

In hind sight , there are perhaps things Vishal could have done better on a few aspects .

1. Instead of hiring most of his old team from SAP labs , perhaps he could have targeted top tier consulting companies to find leadership talent . That would have been a harder sell for sure than convincing loyal friends . Most of the SAP talent left he hired left any way – and several of legacy Infosys leaders also left .

2. The whole $20B target was a bad idea as it was unrealistic . It just proved to be a distraction for the company than a motivation . I don’t blame him for setting a high goal for his team internally – doing so externally seemed misguided . Why didn’t the board counsel him on that ?

3. Innovators dilemma proved to be real . Like Vishal – I also think the future of the consulting business is where the distinction between products and Servcies blur . So he invested and ring fenced innovation on products . But in the overall picture – that was a tiny portion of the company and the larger legacy business just didn’t transform quickly . It also didn’t help that the product business didn’t take off at rocket speed – and had multiple leaders quit in a short period.

But then hind sight is always 20/20. If anything we should applaud Vishal for his bold vision of future of the company and the industry . And he has always been a big proponent of customer focus .

It’s a good lesson for the rest of the industry is understanding the challenges of culture changes . Every large company has its “antibodies” that will attack anything new – for good and bad reasons . Having demonstrated this in public , I wonder if Infosys can now attract top caliber candidates for its leadership ranks any more . My best guess – not that what I think matters – is that they will make an internal candidate the full time CEO , and base that person out of their HQ in Bangalore . That could be one of the younger founders too I guess .

As for Vishal – I really hope he and Vandana take a long vacation , catch-up on sleep and so on . They deserve a break away from all the stress . When he comes back , I think the best option for the world will be to have Vishal as a VC and professor .

Good luck, V !

Re-learning leadership , again


For the most part, I have had a pretty good career so far – not spectacular by any stretch of imagination , but can't complain either . And I attribute most of it to having great leaders who helped me grow.

My interest in leadership started for a simple (and awkward) reason – in the early part of my career, I had some really awful managers. My solution was to stand up for what was right in my mind and often leave the company as a result. So by the time I was given a leadership role – I was determined that I should not let any one in my team go through the trouble I had in the past. Roughly at the same time – I also had the good fortune to see what great leadership looks like (finally!) and it helped set my expectations more appropriately.

One thing became abundantly clear to me over time – learning how to be a good leader is a journey and never a destination . There are no "here are 12 things to do" that serves as a magic bullet . You need to constantly calibrate where you are and seek the needed help to improve. This unfortunately doesn't mean that I followed through on it – I have some ways to go 🙂

Thanks in a large part to the less than stellar leadership I got when I started out – I have become a big fan of mentoring young men and women who are starting out in their careers. I also spend a lot of my time mentoring first line managers . This serves two purposes – the highest energy comes from the entry level colleagues and I get to channel it for the good of the business , and I don't become a bottleneck to the process since the first line managers get a better perspective on why their success is totally dependent on the success of their team.

To enable this behavior – I have long had a rule that anyone can get 15 mins on my calendar , no questions asked. Not everyone takes me up on it – but several do. And it does get overwhelming at times.

This is when my friend Stephanie Anderson, an HR leader in IBM, gave me some invaluable advice . She told me "You cannot mentor everyone – you need to let others help you". Pretty straightforward and I should have known it – but the truth is that I did not . I am pretty good with delegation – as any of my direct reports can vouch for . But when it comes to mentoring , clearly I sucked at delegation . So thanks to Steph giving me timely feedback – I have woken up to the reality and have started enlisting the help of others to help mentor more of our younger colleagues . Thanks Steph ! And since no good deed should go unpunished , I am now pushing a bunch of mentoring requests to Steph as well 🙂

The first few years of my professional life was actually quite calm – I learned programming and project management and got to apply it at projects and had the time to develop my skills. I did not have to do much more than take classes couple of times a year to stay on top of it . Then it started changing – technology started moving at faster pace and I realized I need to get into a "learning is for all of your life" paradigm . And that has only helped me in my life – actually on personal front too . Folks starting out today don't have the luxury I had of starting slow !

For a long time, I wondered why I was signed up for classes like "executive presentations" and "executive negotiations" when I was not even close to being an executive . But in hindsight – pushing me to take those classes was one of the best things my mentor Ken Englund did for me more than a decade ago. It taught me that the sooner you learn things – even if they are hard and they don't apply immediately to your work – the faster you make an impact . And trying new skills in early part of your career is a lot less risky than trying them later.

So when last fall when our North America managing partner Ismail Amla asked me to sponsor the core consulting school for senior managers , I jumped in with both feet. I still wonder why he chose me given he was fairly new to IBM at the time and we didn't know each other very well at the time . In any case I said yes before he changed his mind 🙂

I was also taking over a new day job running a large ( well large for me, not really that large for IBM) portfolio in parallel . I sure had my moments of stress – but it was the best experience in my time at IBM bar none .

To begin with, I had no idea how much care and effort it takes to put on a comprehensive learning event – and the Pre and post school activities . Fortunately I was paired with experienced learning experts like Debi Steinbacher , Lorraine Rapuano and other colleagues . We also managed to find a team of volunteers from amongst the partners and associate partners in the firm to be the teachers . It's pure magic when a team of passionate people come together with a common purpose – and now Bee School has taken a life of its own and is growing from strength to strength . And here is a shout out to Pooja and Andrea for coming up with the name "Bee School" !

My favorite part of these schools are the "ask me anything" sessions . When you can ask and answer hard and often uncomfortable questions, you start growing !

Last week at dinner, Lorraine told me "you are the Zen master of Bee school" given how I apparently had a calming influence during the chaotic times we went through in preparation . Well, if I was Zen – it's only because I had, and continue to have, full confidence in the amazing team around to me . And also along the way , I learned that it's foolish to stress about things you can't control 🙂

Success breeds success – and the confidence I got from being part of this team that put together Bee School led me to start a second learning initiative that I lovingly call the T-school which is where we focus on technology training , like AI and IOT . We ran the pilot couple of weeks ago and it was a lot of fun hacking AI solutions with 30 of our new engineers . And again – it only happened because we brought together a team that was super passionate about the cause and leaders from the business took time out of their day job and came in as teachers. I lucked out having a great partner in Andreana Miller from our learning team and a bunch of new friends from our global team .

And in the process, the Bee school got a fantastic upgrade too . Susan Wedge , a dear friend and a great leader of our public sector business , took over Bee school sponsor role from me . I can't wait to see her take it to even greater heights !

Not only was the investment in learning good for my soul and fun for all of us – it had some side benefits too in my day job . I now have a MUCH better appreciation of what great looks like and how iteration is far superior to aiming for upfront perfection . And best of all – there are now several new ideas for making our clients more successful . It's just fascinating watching what happens when high potential people are given the tools and freedom they need . Pure magic !

One last point before this plane lands in SFO – we all know that asking for help is a good thing . What I realized in the past few months is that asking for help should not be just to your senior management – a lot of help can and does come from your team as well . I can't tell you how cool it is to see my young engineers and consultants jump in and solve problems with high quality when I requested their support . And their energy is infectious – and has convinced me beyond a shred of doubt that I have more help to ask 🙂