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Can Kamath solve Infosys' midlife crisis?

Last updated on: May 2, 2011 11:48 IST

Can Kamath solve Infosys' midlife crisis?

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Business Standard

India's premier software services company, Infosys Limited, has reached out to its banker, the non-executive chairman of ICICI Bank, K V Kamath, to step into the shoes of its founder N R Narayana Murthy.

This long-expected move should bring an embattled firm a "desirable newness" that Mr Kamath is capable of offering.

The transition from the era of the founders has not been smooth for Infosys.

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Image: K V Kamath.

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Not only has the external environment become more competitive, but the internal environment has also become increasingly contentious.

Managing these twin challenges and dealing with the firm's "midlife crisis" will be the main task before the new team.

Mr Kamath comes with high credentials, though one must not exaggerate the leadership he was able to provide at ICICI Bank or his role in brokering peace between the Ambani brothers - the two things that keep coming up in the media as Mr Kamath's assets.

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Image: K V Kamath.
Photographs: Reuters.
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ICICI Bank needed hand holding from the outside till it was able to weather the global financial storm and the Ambani brothers are still quarrelling!

But Mr Kamath has one qualification that his predecessor values most - credibility and, to use one of Mr Kamath's favourite phrases, "positive aggression".

The brand image of Infosys was built on these two qualities and Mr Kamath is capable of contributing to both.

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Image: Infosys.

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It is only natural that a large part of the responsibility to deal with the external challenge facing Infosys, and the challenge of managerial transition, will be borne by the new executive co-chairman, S Gopalakrishnan (Kris), and the new CEO and MD, S D Shibulal.

It is this duo that will have to carry forward Mr Murthy's day-to-day role at Infosys. Both are co-founders and organisation men, who can be expected to work in tandem.

However, it will be Mr Kamath's responsibility to ensure that they do that and that Infosys is able to adapt to the "desirable newness" it needs.

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Image: S Gopalakrishnan.

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How the three work together will shape the future of Infosys and its ability to claw back the leadership it has yielded to the Tatas in recent months.

Needless to say, the ability of the new trio to leave its mark will also depend on Mr Murthy's willingness to let go and allow the new team to experiment and make mistakes. Mr Murthy has said that he feels like the "father of the bride".

Mercifully, he did not say "mother of the groom", since the mother-in-law syndrome is not particularly helpful when it comes to managerial transition!

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Image: Infosys.

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Mr Murthy can, however, play a very useful part in training younger managers, mentoring senior managers and in his new role as a venture capitalist.

India is bubbling with entrepreneurs and the successful ones like Mr Murthy can play a tremendous role in encouraging and supporting the new generation of Indian enterprise.

The one temptation Mr Murthy must resist is to enter public life and lecture the country.

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Image: Narayana Murthy with Judith Woodsworth, president and vice chancellor, Concordia University.
Photographs: Ajit Jain.
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Indians love gurus, especially those who believe in "high thinking and simple living" and are capable of performing miracles.

Mr Murthy has those positive qualities, but he must resist the temptation to pontificate.

In the end, people like Mr Murthy, Mr Kamath and the new leadership at Infosys represent a new breed of middle-class professionals who have become billionaires through the power of knowledge and honest hard work.

They inspire middle-class India. And they must continue to do that.

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Image: Narayana Murthy.

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