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Vishal Sikka: A scholar who wants to learn at every stage

June 13, 2014 08:46 IST

Vishal Sikka: A scholar who wants to learn at every stage

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BS Reporter in Bengaluru/New Delhi

It’s unusual for a leader of a multi-billion dollar company to describe himself as a student and express a desire to learn the basics of his trade all over again.

But that’s what Vishal Sikka, the CEO-designate of Infosys, said soon after the announcement of his appointment to steer India’s second-largest IT services company.

With seven weeks left to take up his new role, Sikka says all he wants to do during this period is to ‘learn, learn and learn’.

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Image: Vishal Sikka, CEO, Infosys
Photographs: Courtesy, SAP

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Vishal Sikka: A scholar who wants to learn at every stage

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“The first thing I see ahead is to learn -- about the company, about every aspects of the business. I’m also looking forward to taking some classes at the incomparable Infosys University in Mysore,” said the former SAP executive board member, who has been widely credited for developing SAP HANA.

A PhD in artificial intelligence from Stanford University, Sikka was born in Madhya Pradesh to Punjabi parents and spent his formative years in Gujarat, where his father was working with Indian Railways as an engineer.

His mother was a teacher at Rajkot. “My wife calls me a fake Punjabi,” he joked, while talking about his connection with Gujarat.

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Image: N R Narayana Murthy.
Photographs: Reuters

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Vishal Sikka: A scholar who wants to learn at every stage

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After finishing his degree in computer engineering from MS University in Baroda, Sikka went to the US, where he first did his BS in computer science from Syracuse University.

“I am the son of a teacher and in our family, the highest honour is reserved for scholars.

"If there is only one chair, there are three people, including a billionaire, a very powerful officer and a scholar, that chair is first given to the scholar,” said Infosys Executive Chairman N R Narayana Murthy, praising the credentials of the CEO-designate who has still kept the ambition of teaching at his alma-mater as a visiting faculty.

“Therefore, Vishal is something special for me.

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Image: Infosys campus.
Photographs: Reuters

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“He is a PhD in computer science from Stanford. Getting a PhD degree from a university like Stanford is perhaps the highest recognition you can get as an intellectual.

“Therefore, I am so honoured and so pleased that Vishal has agreed to join Infosys as the CEO.”

Sikka, who joined SAP in 2002, is widely considered to be an exceptional technocrat.

In March 2007, German software major appointed him as the first chief technology officer.

Since 2010, he had been in the executive board of the company, managing $7-8 billion of revenues globally that comes through the partners.

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Image: Infosys campus.
Photographs: Reuters

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Vishal Sikka: A scholar who wants to learn at every stage

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When Infosys announced its search for the new CEO in April this year, Sikka’s name was nowhere in the list of probables that was speculated widely.

Most of the industry experts were of the opinion that the company would prefer to have an insider for the top job over an outsider who may take time to gel with its culture.

Picking an outsider was the right thing to do as Infosys needed a fresh leader, said Peter Bendor-Samuel, founder and CEO of Everest Group.

He added that Sikka's leadership style may be different from leaders that Infosys has seen in the past and he may also have little experience of running a services company, but it is hardly a disadvantage as “it all depends on his lieutenants”.

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Image: Infosys campus.
Photographs: Reuters

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“What matters is a CEO's vision and the strong lieutenants that he brings to take the agenda ahead. Sikka can get the right people to drive the sales side of things, in case he lacks that expertise,” added Bendor-Samuel.

As Sikka starts his new innings, one of the biggest challenges before him will be that he needs to spend a significant amount of time in Bengaluru, where Infosys is headquartered.

Sikka, a US-citizen, stays in California with family.

“I will be here in Bengaluru almost once every month,” he said.


Image: Vishal Sikka.
Photographs: Brendan McDermid/Reuters

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