Bangalore: Ashok Vemuri, who was a contender to become Infosys Ltd’s first non-founder chief executive before he quit last month, takes over the reins of smaller rival iGate Corp. at a time when the Fremont, California-based company faces formidable challenges, including the risk of losing its biggest customer, Royal Bank of Canada.
Vemuri, who joins iGate after a 15-year career at Infosys, was unwilling to wait for two more years for his shot at a job for which he was widely seen as one of the strongest candidates.
For Vemuri, the second consecutive Infosys executive to head iGate after Phaneesh Murthy, the fact that there were two other strong contenders for the top job at Infosys—V. Balakrishnan and B.G. Srinivas—may have accelerated his decision to jump ship.
“Just like companies have to make decisions, professionals also have to make decisions with their careers. He has taken a firm opportunity as opposed to a hypothetical opportunity,” said Subhash Dhar, a former global sales head at Infosys who worked with Vemuri for several years.
“(Ashok) said the probability of his becoming the CEO at Infosys was at best 33% and at least 18-20 months away. Therefore, he felt that he must move on. I agreed with him,” Infosys founder and chairman N.R. Narayana Murthy said in an email response to Mint the day after Vemuri resigned from the Bangalore-based company.
Another theory doing the rounds is that Vemuri disagreed with Narayana Murthy’s centralized style of leadership and the way forward for the company that was once Indian information technology (IT) industry’s gold standard.
When contacted, Vemuri declined an immediate interview. “Thank you for reaching out to me. I will be available to talk to you after 1 October,” he said in an email response to Mint after he quit Infosys. Vemuri did not respond to another email sent to him on Thursday.
Prior to joining Infosys, Vemuri had a strong career in the arena of investment banking, having worked at Deutsche Bank AG and Bank of America Corp. A physics graduate from St. Stephens, Delhi, Vemuri completed his degree in business management from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, in 1992 before joining Deutsche Bank.
In 1995, Vemuri joined Bank of America and later was part of the team that was handing out its outsourcing mandate to Infosys, after the bank became a client of the Bangalore-based company. It was at that time that Infosys noticed the up-and-coming Vemuri and asked him to join the company, where he was personally mentored by Narayana Murthy and held a number of key roles.
Along with his last role as a board member and head of Infosys’s Americas business, Vemuri also served as chairman of the company’s China operations and was instrumental in setting up its now largest business division—banking and financial services that contributes 30-40% to the annual business.
For Vemuri, who is regarded as a top salesman like his predecessor Phaneesh Murthy, the challenges he faces in his newest assignment will be different and far more complex than the ones he faced at Infosys.
Over the last two years, Infosys lost its tag of bellwether of India’s $108-billion IT industry and underperformed its own expectations during the period.
Several candidates who were approached by executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates declined to take up the assignment of iGate’s CEO, citing concerns over the company’s huge $700-million debt, unsettled tax claims and lawsuits filed against it. Some of the candidates spoke to Mint on condition of anonymity as these discussions were private.
“There are some unanswered questions and concerns about the role that makes you think again and again,” one of them said in July. Vemuri’s “biggest priority is revenue growth. iGate hasn’t done badly in the last two quarters. What, however, is not available in the public domain is the sales pipeline,” said a person familiar with the challenges at iGate, also requesting anonymity.
Friends and executives who know Vemuri say he is more than capable of tackling the challenges. “It’s a great opportunity for him. We need more leaders to come out in professional ranks and Ashok’s appointment is a step in that direction, which is very welcome,” said Dhar, who founded IT products start-up Enterprise Nube after quitting Infosys.