We have to solve Infosys' growth problem, says new CEO Vishal Sikka
On the eve of taking over as Infy CEO, Sikka said co will find balance between innovating for future & ensuring that existing biz is not compromised.
In his first exclusive interview on the eve of taking over as the first non-founder CEO of the company, the former SAP board member said the company will find a balance between innovating for the future and ensuring that existing business is not compromised.
“We can’t create two different companies — the one that does the new sexy stuff that Vishal is interested (in) and the other is the boring dull stuff. This is not the point,” said Sikka, during the course of a 90-minute free-wheeling conversation with ET in which he put restoring Infosys’ pre-eminence and raising employee morale at the core of his mission to revive the company. “Without the one we are grinders. Without the other, we are dreamers,” he said, emphasising the need to strike a balance.
Sikka, a US-based technology visionary who is credited with creating a revolutionary new software product called HANA while at SAP, is taking over the reins of the software company as it tries to regain revenue growth momentum amid fierce competition in an industry being reshaped by technologies such as cloud computing and data analytics.
Infosys has turned to Sikka, 47, to revive its fortunes after its iconic founder NR Narayana Murthy unexpectedly resigned in June after just one year into his comeback as executive chairman.
Murthy has left Infosys, a company he founded in 1981 with cash raised from pawning his wife’s jewellery, on a much sounder footing than where it was when he started his second innings, its flab trimmed and stock price higher.
But it faces significant headwinds. Its revenue growth trails the industry and attrition levels — at nearly 20% in the last quarter — are the highest in the sector, both unflattering metrics for a company long coveted as an aspirational workplace for legions of young professionals. Most of its second-rung leadership has departed the company, making the once mighty posterboy of the industry appear tired and vulnerable.
Sikka, who earned his doctorate in computer science from Stanford University and counts Albert Einstein and Erwin Schrodinger as his inspirations in life, said his principal task was restoring the sense of pride in a company whose recent travails he termed as “a reflection of how important it is to the country”.
Illustrating his commitment to new ideas and innovation, Sikka said his first order of business will be to give life to Infosys’ dormant $100-million (.`600-crore) venture investment fund. “I want to put that to use starting tomorrow. To work with startup companies, to work with venture capitalists who work with them…They can work with us and we can become their amplifier to accelerate their road maps to get to scale more quickly,” he said.
Even before formally taking charge, he set about seeking out new ideas from within and aiming for a culture of innovation across the organisation. A few weeks ago, Sikka launched an initiative called ‘Murmuration’, soliciting ideas for new ways of working at Infosys. In the past few days, he has mingled with scores of employees on Infosys’ 90-acre Bangalore campus, obliging them with ‘selfies’ and generally shooting the breeze with young engineers.
He says under him Infosys will see a “much more decentralised and open management approach” and one that will lay greater stress on thinking big and differently rather than just obsess about moving the needle on arcane performance metrics. “I think this whole idea that one person can have the instinct and the knowhow and the intellect to be smarter than anyone else in such a large organisation is nonsense... The important thing to learn is that innovation cannot be the domain of a chosen few. Everybody can do innovation,” he said.
Will Infosys under Sikka become a product company? The answer was a resounding NO.
“People often ask me, are you going to take the company towards products. That completely misses the point. The whole revolution that is happening is happening around services. So why would I make a services company a product company?”
Acquisitions will be an important element of his strategy — Infosys has been perceived as too conservative about using its .`30,000-crore cash pile to buy — and so will expanding the company’s presence in Silicon Valley, the Mecca of technology where Sikka himself will be based.
Infosys, he said, will not buy just to gain size, it will also spend money on new capabilities. Silicon Valley is a good hunting ground for such capabilities although Sikka said irrational exuberance was rampant and valuations there are “ridiculous”.
Yet, for all the innovation, in the field of enterprise software the focus is excessively on cutting costs and doing the same things in a more efficient manner. “We are in kind of a downward spiral … Instead you want to turn this thing the other way and go towards higher value, new kinds of things.”
When Sikka first met Murthy last year, he volunteered to solve a mathematical problem that the Infosys founder was presenting as a challenge to new engineering graduates joining the company. That conundrum was solved, but Murthy, still a passionate lover of mathematics, has left him a much more complex puzzle.