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 !

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7 thoughts on “Vishal Sikka leaves Infosys – An arranged marriage that ended in a divorce !

  1. Great analogy with humor đŸ™‚ you can sail with you pen into any topic. This is one of the reasons I follow this blog of how can comment on anything and everything under the sun with so much ease!!. I remember you wrote one article when VS left SAP as CTO and posted some pics. One a serious note I would like to know why you think $20B target was unrealistic with some serious data driven explanations.. I too believe, like most of IT industry watcher, that it was unrealistic, but I want to know your perspective.. Thanks..

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  2. Excellent article Vijay, well analyzed and captures the essence. The IT service industry is going though a shift think infosys didn’t catchup to Vishal’s playbook fast- Badri

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  3. VS should start an incubator and work with multiple “enterprise” very early stage “disruptive” start-ups. Guide the startups on product, strategy and also, provide them with connections (customers, investors, advisors, etc.). One way to maximize his impact on the industry.

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