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 !