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5 Life Lessons every MBA grad can learn from Vishal Sikka’s exit from Infosys

Aug 22, 2017 09:20 IST

Vishal Sikka’s exit from Infosys
Vishal Sikka’s exit from Infosys

The short lived tenure of Vishal Sikka at the helm of affairs at one of India’s top multi-national consultancy firms has come to an end. While almost everyone in the Industry was aware of the friction between the Infosys board, the founder Murthy and Sikka, they still didn’t anticipate the resignation to be so overtly dramatic and generate the media hype that it has.

Vishal Sikka’s untimely resignation from Infosys has raised several questions and none of them can be answered easily. It will take some time until the dust settles down and we finally have our answer to what triggered Sikka to quit a company he once described close to his heart. But moving aside from all the media hype and dissection of the strained personal relations of Vishal Sikka with the Infy Board members and the founder; there is plenty to learn here for young management professionals who are walking out in the corporate world.

So, if you are already part of the cut-throat competition of the corporate world or an MBA aspirant planning to join the ranks of office politics soon; here are a few lessons that can help you steer your budding career away from such a ‘burnout’.

Be aware of the Changes around you

This one goes without saying, if you want to be in the game or corporate politics you have got to pay attention to what’s happening around you. This becomes even more important in firms like Infosys that have multiple masters ranging from the Board of Directors and a founder who enjoys cult status among the employees, media and the general public. This was the first mistake that brought about the downfall of Vishal Sikka.

Vishal Sikka was a tech whizkid from Silicon Valley during this pre-Infy day. And even after joining Infosys, he preferred to work out of the US office Infosys based in Palo Alto, California. This meant that when it comes to connecting with the ground realities of the consultancy giant, Sikka had limited interest or opportunity.

Back & Justify Your Decisions

When you are working for a company, especially in the private sector, the bottom line is the only thing that determines your effectiveness for the organization. What this essentially means is that, if you are able to generate and deliver profits for the organization, you are entitled to be part of the equation and eligible for the piece from the cake.

Here’s where the 2015 case of Panaya acquisition comes into the picture. Coming to the timeline of things, Vishal joined Infosys as the CEO and MD in the year 2014. Following this, Infosys’s first major step towards great transformation was the acquisition of Panaya in 2015. But like all major financial dealings, even the Panaya acquisition wasn’t done in the simplest of the terms, and corruption allegations came to the fore. Even then Infosys CFO Rajiv Bansal’s name was also thrown in media reports as to having being paid-off to keep things quite. Even Murthy had severely criticized the Panaya deal and eventually Sikka had to drop it under pressure from the founder.

This was the perfect case of mismanagement on part of Infy CEO, wherein he failed to not only justify his decisions but also buckled down under pressure from Murthy, which showed him as guilty. Eventually, Infosys got out the mess after the matter was investigated by two independent agencies, but that was too little too late; and damage had already been done to Sikka’s image.

Experience and Expertise matter

Another thing that really matter in your professional life is your expertise and experience. No matter how glorified your resume is, if you are unable to back it with experience and show your work competence, it hardly matters. This is something again which Sikka suffered from during his time at Infy.

Among the many whistle-blower emails that have come to the fore, which Sikka even referred in his resignation letter, there is a mention of lack of trust of the Infosys Board members in his abilities for the job he was assigned to.

Prior to being appointed as the CEO and MD of Infosys, Sikka was the wonder whizkid at SAP AG. His exceptional track record and vision in the technology domain was considered ideal for someone who is being hired for a role of CTO. But many Infosys Board members considered him not CEO material for Infosys. This was the first knot in the professional relationship that Sikka shared with Infy.

This somehow meant that Sikka was not considered to be ideal for the job that he was being given and many within the organization were wishing for his downfall. Even, he didn’t consider this expertise or experience before taking up the job of managing the consulting giant. This is where things went south for him.

Mentor your Successor

Now, this one is not so much to do with Sikka, but still forms a very important part of the Infosys and the kind of work culture it has developed in the last decade or so. Infosys was headed by the founder Murthy from 1981-2002. Nandan Nilekani took over the reins of Infy from Murthy from 2002 and resigned in 2007.  Both of these honchos had run Infosys is a much different economic and technical climate compared to what Infosys faces today.

Infosys was built on the backs of legion of coders who created and maintained applications for their western masters. However, in the recent past, the business enjoyed by Infosys and the likes was under direct threat from new-age start-ups, automation technologies and the general sentiment among the western firms that their IT control is better off in their own hands.

The SAP AG tech wizard Vishal Sikka was brought to the helm of affairs at Infosys to tackle this challenge. His primary task was to transform Infosys into a business model that is more relevant to the current needs of its clients, while also maintaining a steady profitable revenue stream for the company. Despite being entrusted this huge responsibility, Murthy and the Infosys Board never really allowed Sikka to take control of the firm. He was challenged and checked at every decision he took. This can be clearly seen in Panaya acquisition we talked about earlier.

Infosys as a company failed to create a successor who was capable of rising upto the level of its founder or someone who enjoyed or could gain enough power to take upon the Board members. This could only be done by someone who has been groomed from within and not someone who has been appointed from outside. Especially when, people who appointed him (read board members) didn’t trust his abilities to do his job. Sikka was always treated as an outsider, who has been given the responsibility of fixing the company’s problem over others who have slogged for years to build it.

Be it personal life or corporate one, succession and mentorship play a pivotal role in the success of an organization after moving away from the ambit of its founder. This is one thing that every company and organization must consider while appointing a successor.

Adopt Result Oriented Approach

Last but not the least, Result Oriented Approach! During your MBA days, you must have studied and identified the importance results for an organization and also learnt different ways and management principles that might help you achieve the desired results for your organization. But when it comes to the real world situations, things might not be easy.

As mentioned above, Sikka was appointed to Infosys with the grand vision of transforming the organization into something different and new. Despite having his work cut-out for him, he failed to showcase any real changes that he intended to bring about through his decisions. The company also failed to see logic in the way he was looking to change established operational procedures that had worked wonders for Infosys for years. This eventually led to a difference of opinion among the Board members and the CEO and the rest is history which is out there for everyone to see.

Had Sikka adopted a more pragmatic approach to taking things one-by-one and ensuring that the he highlighted the impact of each of this decision and steps at the overall strategy level for the organization; he might have earned the trust of his colleagues. It would have also ensured that all the major stakeholders in Infosys was updated about the overall vision of Sikka for the company and how does he intent to take the organization there.

These are just a few of the very interesting and super important lessons that have come to the fore after the Sikka-Murthy-Infosys saga of the last week. But the story is far from being over and new developments might bring to the fore new lessons which can be useful for management professionals and MBA aspirants who dream of making it big in the corporate world.

If you think, we have missed out on any aspect related to the Vishal Sikka’s exit from Infosys, please highlight the same in the comments section below. You can also subscribe for more interesting articles about MBA Case Studies and Corporate world here.

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