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The Un-Succession Battle

Infosys' promoters have lost interest in the business & are competing to get out…

Infosys is in trouble, and the departure of Mohandas Pai is only the latest piece of evidence that points to this fact. I don’t mean trouble in the sense that it will start deflating and will eventually go out of existence. It will continue to grow and be a large and leading software services company. However, there will increasingly be nothing special about this company and in fact, it will start to lag TCS, Wipro and Cognizant on financial as well as operational parameters.

Why am I making this statement that will appear to heretical to so many people? Because the founders have lost interest in the business. Don’t believe all this rubbish about professionalising and handing over to the next generation of leaders. Leaders are in politics. Infosys needs an entrepreneur.

I would be actually be far more comfortable about the growth prospects of this company if at this point it were undergoing a standard Indian succession battle. Think of an alternate history scenario. Think of a situation where at this point, Messrs Murthy, Nilakeni, Pai et al were fighting like cats and dogs about whose son or daughter will be the next CEO. Think of these gentlemen (and I use that word sarcastically) scheming behind each other’s back to reduce each other’s stakes by doing some barely legal warrant conversion sort of skulduggery that is so beloved to Indian promoters.

I would have been more comfortable if such things were happening. That would have been a succession battle, which is normal for a business. Instead, what we see here is a bizarre un-succession battle. We have a bunch of promoters who have lost interest in the business so thoroughly that they are competing with each other to get out of the company. The Infosys version of a succession battle is a ridiculous struggle to avoid running the company.

The contrast with the zeal with which Azim Premji is involved in Wipro or the aggressive entrepreneurship of the Cognizant founders could not have been starker. And even TCS fits that mould. After a century and a half the Tata group still has a man at the helm who is the ‘malik’ in spirit, if not financially. We all knew that Infosys was different. How completely different, we’re discovering now. I don’t know about you, but my feeling is that we will eventually end up proving that Infosys too, needs some ‘maliks’ who would stay passionately interested in the business. I think the founders owe that to the employees, customers and shareholders.