There is a leadership vacuum in Infosys, time to get Nandan Nilekani back: Mohandas Pai – Blue Barrows

ET Now caught up with former Infosys Board Member Mohandas Pai for his views on the top level exits in Infosys. Excerpts:

ET Now: There are two ways of looking at it the top level exits in Infosys. On the one hand, a lot of people say that there was a team that was probably not performing well and now they are exiting and that will probably be a positive for the stock over the long run. The sceptics, on the other hand, would argue that there are a lot of people who have been manning the company for the last many years and it is not a pint-sized company, but a Rs 1 lakh 70 thousand crore behemoth. Why have there been so many high profile exits in the company?

Mohandas Pai: There is a leadership vacuum in the company, because they made the wrong choice of CEO three years ago and that is playing out right now. The company has not performed and in June 2011, they had appointed three members on the board and all three of them have gone now and all three have been extraordinary individuals.

Ashok Vemuri is now the CEO of another company, V Balakrishnan had left and has started his own fund and BG Srinivas, I am told, would now be joining some other company as CEO.

So obviously, all three have been CEO materials. It is obvious that the chemistry did not work, or they were not fully empowered. There is a need for the board to sit down and work out a good succession plan and put a new team in place because the entire layer of people below the executive board are now gone and many of them were outstanding performers.

Yes, a few of them possibly were not pulling the weight, but it is not possible that all of them were not doing so. They were extraordinary people and they are performing at other places.

So there is a need for teamwork and need for people to come together. They need to forget the past and focus on the future, they need to realign the company based upon what the market needs.

The market has changed and so its model needs to change, its management structure needs to change and the set of people who have ruled the company for 30 years have to step down and hand over reins, because they have stayed on for too long. Therefore, I hope that in the next one or two months, the board will come together along with NRN and once and for all close this issue.

ET Now: Where can the breakthrough come from at this point, because you have already stated in the past that the board and Mr Murthy need to take responsibility for the exits. It just seems that the series of exits is not ending. Does this mean that the company may have to also consider forming a completely new team from outside and hiring some expensive resources from outside?

Mohandas Pai: My view is that the layer below BG Srinivas, V Balakrishnan and Ashok Vemuri is an extraordinary layer. You have many good people who have run units. But they have run units and they require one or two years to come up with enterprise.

Enterprise position is very different from a unit position. You could be an extraordinary unit person, but to run an entire enterprise in a very competitive environment, you require some mentoring and some experience.

Now the entire generation of leaders who could have handled enterprise has gone. The next layer of people have done very well and there is great management there, but they need to connect between themselves and NRN who is the executive chairman and will stay for the next three years. That connect has to be fixed and it is up to NRN to do it.

Now it can be done by somebody stepping up to the plate as CEO. He will be inexperienced, he would not have handled enterprise, but being very efficient, in three to six months, he can pick it up.

However, that requires a different style of functioning by NRN. It also means that some amount of bloodletting will happen. In fact, it has to happen when the next generation comes up, because obviously people who are much senior will not stay on and there has to be a cleanup. So in the next two or three months, we have to see a radical change.

It is very difficult to speculate whether we will have an external team of people coming in, because such a team does not exist in any other company, let us remember. It is a very large company, with 160000 people, and $25 billion or $30 billion of market value.

So it requires a certain level of expertise and the board and the chairman have to work with them very carefully. So they have their task cut out and it will help if Nandan Nilekani is asked to come back, because he could provide the link between the chairman and the next layer of people and help to mentor them for the next couple of years, because he had an extraordinarily connect with people, his style is very inclusive and he is a person who empowers his team and gives them full strength to go ahead and stands by them. So getting Nilekani back would be a great strategy.