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Rediff.com  » Business » Why Narayana Murthy's return to Infosys isn't so great

Why Narayana Murthy's return to Infosys isn't so great

June 12, 2013 10:39 IST

Why Narayana Murthy's return to Infosys isn't so great

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Sudhir Bisht

Narayana Murthy showed that he may be the greatest first-generation business leader of our times but he too is mortal, says Sudhir Bisht. 

Who is the most respected first-generation business leader in India?

In case, India decides to have a business icon as its next President, who do  you think fits the bill?

Which business leader deserves the highest civilian award of our nation?

In the first week of May 2013, if you had asked one thousand working class men and women the above mentioned questions, the chances are that Narayana Murthy would have been the choice of overwhelming majority of respondents.

Sadly somewhere in the last week of May, Narayana Murthy showed that he may be the greatest first-generation business leader of our times but he too is mortal.

In Mahabharata, we read that the wheels of the chariot of Yudhishtir, the great Pandav prince, were always two feet above the ground level as the great Prince was the embodiment of truth and dharma. 

However his chariot was brought to the ground level after he uttered one lie to his Guru. Yudhishtir told his Guru, the great Dhronacharya, “Ashwathama has been killed, but the elephant.”

The last three words, ‘but the elephant’, were deliberately spoken very softly and the Guru didn’t hear them. Thinking that Ashwathama, the Guru’s son was killed, the Guru gave up fighting and in the process was killed by Dhrishtadyumna.

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Image: Narayana Murthy.
Photographs: Rajesh Karkera/Rediff.com

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Why Narayana Murthy's return to Infosys isn't so great

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By returning to Infosys as Executive Chairman, Narayana Murthy’s chariot has also been brought to the ground level. Just like Yudhishtir lost the morale right to be addressed as “Dharmraj”, Murthy has proved that when it comes to negotiating life without all the trappings of power, he is just like one of us. Lonely, restless and itching back to get back his former corner office!

Murthy’s return has made it all so confusing

When Murthy retired completely from Infosys in August 2011, he said that he had built a strong team to carry forward the company.

Infosys then had one Chairman (KV Kamath), Co-chairman (Kris Gopalakrishnan) and one MD/CEO (SD Shibulal).

With Murthy’s return, KV Kamath has sort of stepped aside (or has he?),  Krish Gopalakrishnan has become Vice Chairman (demoted?) and SD Shibulal remains the toddler who needs the support of Murthy and Kris to stabilise.

With one Executive Chairman and one Executive Vice Chairman what is the Managing Director supposed to do?

The strategy will be driven by whom? If by Murthy and Kris, then why not redesignate Shibulal as COO?

Murthy and Kris keep saying that they want to strengthen the hands of Shibulal. What about his morale building?

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Image: An employee walks past a signage board in the Infosys campus at the Electronics City IT district in Bangalore.
Photographs: Vivek Prakash/Reuters

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Why Narayana Murthy's return to Infosys isn't so great

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Murthy’s return means that the he wasn’t a great Team Builder

Murthy was the Number One man at Infosys from 1991 to 2006.

Thereafter also till 2011 his shadow loomed large as he became non-Executive Chairman and Chief Mentor. He stepped out only in August 2011, leaving the door ajar!

This means he wasn’t able to groom a single leader in two decades who could run the company without his supervision.

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Image: N. R. Narayana Murthy (R) and Nandan M. Nilekani attend a news conference in Bangalore, April 14, 2006.
Photographs: Jagadeesh/Reuters

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Why Narayana Murthy's return to Infosys isn't so great

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Why is Murthy always emphasizing that he will draw a salary of Re 1

We all know that Murthy is a supremely humble man. We have all heard that he doesn’t mind taking a taxi from airport to home and how little priority he attaches to personal wealth. 

I genuinely believe that he indeed is a marvelous man and is a shinning example of virtuosity and simplicity. But I don’t like all this talk about his taking just Re 1/- salary.


Is Murthy sending a message that his normal salary (whatever it may be) would be too much for Infosys to pay?


Is Murthy sending a signal to other top team leaders of Infosys to reduce their packages considerably so that the bottom line gets better?


Is Murthy indirectly suggesting that he is the only one who can make sacrifices and the rest of the top guys are just mercenaries?


Is Muthy suggesting that not taking salary is a great virtue? Isn’t it good for one’s dignity of labour to remunerate himself for his time and efforts?


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Image: N R Narayana Murthy
Photographs: Rajesh Karkera/Rediff.com

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Why Narayana Murthy's return to Infosys isn't so great

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Why is Murthy bringing his son as Executive Assistant

By returning to Infosys, Murthy has indicated that there isn’t anyone other than him who can lead a company with hundreds of talented leaders. 

By bringing his son along he has unwittingly declared that there is no one in Infosys current team of youngsters who can be his Executive Assistant.

Murthy’s return to Infosys hasn’t been criticised much in the media and the corporate circles. This means that Murthy’s reputation as a man of integrity and selflessness remains in tact.

I personally believe that Murthy is returning to sort out the differences among the top leaders of Infosys. This could have been achieved had Shibulal been given a free rein.

The detractors could have been shown the door. With Murthy’s return, the detractors would keep quiet for now but would raise their heads again, once Murthy retreats.

Unless Murthy wants to remain there for ever!

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Image: Rohan Murty.
Photographs: Courtesy, eecs.harvard.edu

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In conclusion I would like to remind the readers of the great Bob Simpson. This legendary Aussie cricketer retired from Test cricket in 1968 but had to return to lead the Australian cricket team in 1997, after a gap of 9 years.

Austrian test cricket was virtually deserted by all their top cricketers in 1997 as they all signed up with the unofficial cricket body, or rather a circus, called the  World Series Cricket.

Simpson returned to test cricket and led a second string Australian team to victory over a full strength Indian team.

Simpson did well with the bat but he excelled in his role of a mature leader who instilled confidence in his young team mates.

Bob Simpson quickly re-retired as test cricketer once the crisis in the Australian cricket team had been resolved.

Hope Murthy would do the same.

Sudhir Bisht is the CEO of CLAIRVOYANT Consultants. He can be reached at sudhir_bisht@rediffmail.com

 


Image: Infosys Technologies Chairman Narayana Murthy.
Photographs: Punit Paranjpe/Reuters

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