Nilekani, 62, one of Infosys’ seven founders and also a former CEO, spoke on Friday to investors at conference calls, addressed the media and in between chaired his first board meeting, after which the company came out with a statement terming as “unfortunate” the past differences with Murthy.
He said he has been brought back to the company because he has “a record of doing things in very different environments and doing them successfully. I also am here because, I believe in consensus building”.
Nilekani has been called in to steer Infosys after chairman R Seshasayee and three other directors quit, meeting the key demand of founder group led by Murthy.
Articulating his goals, he said the “first (objective) is to bring in stability and make sure that all the stakeholders are aligned, be it board members or investors”.
The second, he said, is to immediately start the process of appointing a CEO for which a search agency has been appointed.
“The third is to put a long term governance structure for the board in place for which I am requesting the nominations committee to come up with a report by October,” he said.
Also, the next objective would be to review the strategy and present in October the future blueprint, he said, refusing to comment if Sikka’s $20 billion revenue target by 2021 is under review. “We are doing complete strategy refresh.”
Nilekani said he represents 100 per cent of shareholders and wants to “make sure that relationship between the board and Murthy, who is an iconic visionary and father of corporate governance, is established”.
The founders led by Murthy had clashed with the board — often publicly — in recent months over the company’s performance, corporate governance and compensation of Sikka.
The “issues of governance that have been raised, I will personally go through the investigative reports with a free and unbiased mind and decide the appropriate action,” he said.
He however refused to say if the report on investigation into the $200 million acquisition of Israeli firm Panaya would be made public as has been demanded by Murthy.
“I am here because there was no one else,” he said, adding that he would not run the company based on comments on twitter or the media and will not get pulled into responding to what either side may have stated.
When Sikka announced his resignation last Friday, Infosys board in a written statement criticised Murthy for his “misguided campaign”. Murthy did not respond to the criticism but in the following days moved swiftly to get investors as well as other founders to back him and got Nilekani back.
Reading from the statement issued by the board after its first meeting under him, Nilekani said it was not the board’s “intention to cause Mr Murthy or any other affected person any personal distress or anguish while stating its point of view”. He said, “I am here to discharge my responsibilities as chairman of this company with the highest standards of governance treating all shareholders equally and to make sure we completely fulfil our legal and fiduciary obligations.”
Stating that he plans to be at Infosys as long as it is required, Nilekani — who was the CEO for five years until 2007 before becoming co-chairman, said he would engage with all shareholders and customers, and work to resolve differences over corporate governance.
With revenue rising four-fold to $2 billion under his watch, he left Infosys in 2009 to shape the world’s biggest biometric ID programme, Aadhaar.
He said many of the assignments he took after 2009 required him to get people from different backgrounds, different motivations, different interest groups aligned to a common goal. “And so, those consultative skills are also something that has probably played a factor in this.”
“I would like to believe that I’m here not just as a founder. I, as you know, was the CEO of this company and retired from that position 10 years back in 2007,” he said.
“In 2009, I was invited by the Prime Minister of India Dr Manmohan Singh to take a job in the government in the rank of Cabinet minister to do one of the world’s most sophisticated technology projects…Aadhaar…which has given over a billion people an identity and which is the fundamental basis for India’s transformation,” he added.
The new chairman said the committee of directors will, over the next six weeks, take stock of all the initiatives, strategic issues, ongoing transformation plans and put all of that into one consolidated plan and present to the board in October. “That will then be put out as a strategic plan.”
He wants to put the company on “the right stable path” and “ensure there are no discordant voices in the company and everyone is on the same page”.
“I have come in to focus on the future of the company, I have come in to take the company forward and deal with its challenges,” he said. “I plan to be here as long as necessary and work as hard as necessary.”
He said he has no intention to become CEO of the company, and the future strategy of Infosys will be aligned with global developments.
He added that he sees tremendous opportunity in software data and machine learning.
“I will focus my attention on the future of the business and customer needs, and show demonstrable progress,” he added.
Nilekani said it is too premature for him to comment on Infosys’ strategy and earnings, while committing himself to uphold the highest standards of corporate governance.
He said he was an “admirer” of Murthy and “will ensure Infosys, Murthy and other founders have a healthy relationship”. “I will ensure there are no discordant voices in the company and everyone is on the same page. Many good practices (of corporate governance) including full disclosures and transparency, SEC filings… were spearheaded by Infosys.”
Infosys will be a board-managed company with high standards of corporate governance, he stressed, vowing to restore its former glory.
Nilekani made it clear that as the non-Executive Chairman, his role will be oversight, governance and functioning and to help with the CEO search that will include internal and external candidates as well as Infosys “alumni”.
On being asked why he chose Infosys when the country needed him more, he said that “coming back to Infosys is also a form of national service”.
Asked if everything is hunky dory at Infosys now, he said: “Yes.”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)