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Nandan Nilekani to write a book

August 13, 2007 17:00 IST
Infosys Technologies co-chairman Nandan Nilekani is working on a book "on weekends". The book, to be published by Penguin, will be out next year.

This, according to those who know him well, will pave the way for him to emerge as a "thought leader", both within and without Infosys.

Last month, Nilekani, 52, handed over the role of CEO and managing director to co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan and announced a morphed role for himself within the firm, focusing on strategy and global customer contact. He will also be actively pursuing the public agenda that he has had for a long time.

The book means he has something to say. The public agenda indicates that this is likely to go well beyond issues that affect the information technology industry. Sridhar Mitta, industry veteran and currently head of e4e, rationalises the change: "You make money, achieve fame and then like to use it to some purpose. At that stage you slowly ease yourself out."

Avinash Vashistha, offshoring consultant and currently head of Tholons, who has known Nilekani for years, explains, "Chief executives, after they have made their pile in the west often become entrepreneurial investors like Lou Gerstner who joined Carlyle after quitting IBM. But, I cannot see Nilekani in such a role and, in any case, there are no private equity firms of such stature in India."

Not everybody sees Nilekani getting into an exit mode. Ashok Soota, head of MindTree and another industry veteran, sees a carefully thought out strategy operating in Infosys. "The change of role is a smart move. This is not just my view but (Azim) Premji's too. He said this created discretionary time to focus on key areas like strategy and large customers. So, he is out there in front without having to spend time with CEO type work. The firm has not one but two CEOs who can multiplex. Kris (the new CEO) is also well chosen. If you take into account Narayana Murthy, who is always available, there are in fact three CEOs."

Soota debunks the theory that Infosys works as if it is on auto pilot. "It may look like that but there are always domain and people challenges.

Plus, there are these new challenges like rupee appreciation and global uncertainties. So there is lots to do in a hands-on kind of way.

While affirming his continuing role in Infosys, Nilekani readily lists his public agenda. "I have been at the forefront of the Brand India building activity. This is the third year I am chairing the CII Brand India committee. Now, are planning an event in New York called 'India at 60' in September."

It all began with what he did for the 'India Everywhere' promotion at Davos two years ago. This was followed up with a stepped up presence at the World Economic Forum in various events and activities, and again at Davos this year.

"We are promoting Brand India for a variety of reasons, to raise India's profile, showcase India's economic opportunities, showcase its democracy, demographics and diversity which make it unique, project our soft power, so to speak," he adds.

Nilekani's second area of public interest is urbanisation. "I have been involved with urbanisation ever since I was heading the Bangalore Agenda Task Force here (Bangalore). Then I have been involved with the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission and I am also on the prime minister's review committee for it."

Third, he is a member of the national knowledge commission under Sam Pitroda, which has been working on a variety of knowledge issues, policies for education, e-governance and access.

A peep into Nilekani's long-term agenda is available from V Ravichandar, who heads Feedback Consulting and is a long term friend and associate in the public affairs area. He recalls that despite being part of a fast growing organisation, Nilekani has found time for public issues and community initiatives.

Ravichandar says Nilekani is also a strategic thinker who can get an agenda together that recognises practical realities. "These skills of his have sharpened over the years. He is headed to become a thought leader, in India and globally."

BS Reporter in Bangalore