Next Infosys chairman will be a non-founding member: Nilekani


Bengaluru: The next chairman of the board of directors at Infosys, India’s second largest information technology (IT) services company by market capitalization, will be a non-founding member, Nandan Nilekani, one of the co-founders, and the incumbent chairman said on Wednesday.

Nilekani’s statement follows founder N.R. Narayana Murthy’s observations on offering an “equal opportunity” to “every individual”, if they were the “best person” for a key management role.

Murthy’s comment came in light of a question on whether not allowing the “next generation” of founders and promoters of Infosys was wrong.”

“There is no Plan B; when I have to give up chairmanship, it would be to a non-founding member,” Nilekani said, adding that he did not want to “be there for longer than necessary”, but did not offer a timeline for the transition. Nilekani was speaking at a founders’ panel at Infosys’ corporate headquarters in Bengaluru.

The Infosys board has been previously led by non-founding members. When Nilekani returned to Infosys, he replaced co-chairs, R. Seshasayee and Ravi Venkatesan, who quit along with the then chief executive officer Vishal Sikka.

While Seshasayee served as the chairman of IndusInd Bank prior to his stint in Infosys, Venkatesan served as chairman of Microsoft India, and was also on the board of Bank of Baroda.

Nilekani, who had stepped down as co-chairman of Infosys in July 2009 to steer the government’s Aadhaar identification project as chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India (Uidai), returned to the firm he co-founded in 1981, in August 2017. Nilekani’s return as the chairman came at a tumultuous period for Infosys, following the abrupt resignation of the first non-founding-member CEO, Sikka, after a conflict between Sikka and Murthy became public.

Five years since, Infosys’ annual revenue increased from 68,484 crore in FY17 to 1.24 trillion in FY22, with Nilekani and Salil Parekh, who is serving as the second ‘outsider’ CEO, at the helm.

At an event celebrating four decades of Infosys, Murthy said he was in favour of the next generation of the founders in key leadership roles. “I stand corrected—every individual should have an equal opportunity, if he is the best person for the job. I was earlier afraid if an undeserving candidate got to a key management role. But, talent and competence rank above all,” Murthy said.

Industry experts and stakeholders said that it remains to be seen how Nilekani’s projection plays out in future. Abhisek Mukherjee, director of management consulting and advisory firm Auctus Advisors, said that appointing a chairman from outside the founders’ ambit would show confidence from Infosys’ board members in relinquishing “influence” on key decisions. “However, there is precedent of family members in leadership roles, such as in Wipro. Infosys has so far refrained, and appointing a future top executive outside the company’s founders would be a positive step in the corporate governance landscape,” he added.

Parekh is seen as a leader who brought stability in key operating decisions after a period of instability.

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