Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Infosys, Wipro look to build next generation boards with tech visionaries and corporate leaders

The hunt is on at two of India’s biggest software companies — Infosys and Wipro — for tech visionaries and corporate leaders who can join their boards and reinvigorate them after the exit of several old-timers and co-founders later this year.

While the board of Bangalore-based Infosys will be made up of non-founders for the first time in history, cross-town rival Wipro too is looking to replace at least three of its directors who are set to retire in a few months.

According to several people briefed on the profiles of potential candidates who could be inducted in these boards, technology vision, strong corporate representation from Europe and deep financial and audit skills are among the qualities being sought by the chairmen and nominations committees of Wipro and Infosys.
“The idea really is to build the next generation board that brings the kind of thought leadership and bold insights needed to remain competitive,” said a person familiar with the search for board members at Wipro. He said with a former SAP board member retiring, there’s strong interest in getting a global technology leader on the board. “When you are in the fast-changing technology business where Silicon Valley speed is the benchmark, you need people on the board who can vet newer plans and even identify the next big bets,” he added.
Last month, three of Wipro’s independent directors, Henning Kaggermann, BC Prabhakar and Shyam Saran, resigned. By next year, Wipro veteran Suresh C Senapaty too is expected to retire, leaving scope for a generational change at the company’s highest decision making body.
At Infosys, with the founders gone, only one of its independent directors — former Microsoft India chairman Ravi Venkatesan — has any tech industry background. “In the business Infosys is, you need a far higher proportion of leaders who understand the world of tech,” said the person familiar with the discussions.
Another key priority for Infosys would be to get somebody senior from Europe, and that’s despite the company’s new CEO Vishal Sikka coming from SAP, among the biggest and most influential companies from the region.
“With somebody of Sikka’s stature on board, especially given his strong European background, you actually need somebody capable of even questioning his strategies, somebody who can bring expertise from Europe,” the person added.
Experts such as Partha Iyengar, principal analyst at Gartner, said the boards of Infosys and Wipro have far greater role to play going forward. “If they don’t act fast, the growth will be stymied and we could see them going downhill in 5-7 years,” Iyengar said. “They need leaders with expertise in finance, a nutsand-bolts person who knows the business inside out and a visionary who can challenge the comfort zones.”
Over years, the founders of these companies brought leaders who they knew well enough and who brought strong governance skills. But now, these companies need business inputs and course corrections from visionaries in the industry.
“Earlier, the assumption was that no business inputs were needed, and the role of the board was mainly governance, but with the core business itself looking less predictable, this may be a time to get people who can give good business inputs,” said Rishikesha Krishnan, a professor of corporate strategy at IIM Bangalore.
Both Infosys and Wipro have been losing revenue growth to aggressive rivals TCS and Cognizant Technology Solutions over past few years. Experts have pointed out management stability as the single biggest reason for this polarisation between leaders and laggards in India’s over $100-billion IT industry.
“Both these companies already have adequate governance expertise on their boards, what they need now are specific and long ignored skills of sales, marketing, technology and connect with the next generation,” said a board member at one of the biggest Indian IT firms.

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