At 44, Francisco D’Souza, the chief executive officer of Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp., the US-based company that has most of its employees in India, has disrupted the pecking order of India-based software firms by overtaking two of the biggest rivals—Infosys Ltd and Wipro Ltd—in quarterly revenue this year.
Executives and founders of rival software firms are looking up to him as the perfect example of a young leader who is beyond nationalities, is street smart in negotiating large deals and does not carry the image of being a home-grown software engineer.
“Let’s admit it—this industry still has many overgrown engineers running their firms based in India. Amid all this, Frank (D’Souza) comes across as a much more global leader, ready to make bold decisions without any overhangs,” said the chief executive of a mid-sized Indian software firm. He requested anonymity because he did not want to publicly acknowledge this.
The son of an Indian Foreign Service diplomat and born in Kenya, D’Souza has lived in 11 countries, studied across institutes in Hong Kong, Panama and New York, and is today leading his company in an industry where many firms are struggling to shed their low-cost provider image and raise their profiles in the boardrooms of top customers.
Over years, since Cognizant went public in 1998, the company has been following the strategy of re-investing any profit in excess of 20% into the business. Cognizant does this, analysts say, by spending more on sales and marketing. While top Indian technology firms spend up to 14% of their revenue on sales and marketing, Cognizant spends 21%. This is helping Cognizant win fresh business from some existing Infosys customers, including Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV.
For Cognizant, and D’Souza, 2012 will be known as the year when a relatively unknown technology unit of Dun & Bradstreet, founded in 1994, became the fastest growing software services firm with revenue of $6.12 billion (2011), or Rs.33,666 crore now.
Lakshmi Narayanan, who was replaced by D’Souza in 2007 as the new Cognizant CEO, says the company looks for leaders who can reflect the young, savvy workforce. “If you find somebody standing in the midnight waiting to buy iPhone 5, we say that’s the Cognizant type of a guy. Before he (D’Souza) took over, we were clear we wanted a person with his kind of energy and global mindset,” says Narayanan.
Over the past 13 quarters, Cognizant has expanded revenue faster than Indian rivals TCS, Infosys, and Wipro by an average margin of 3.4%, according to brokerage firm Jefferies Group, Inc.
In 2013, Cognizant could overtake TCS, India’s largest software services company, in terms of revenue earned from North America—the world’s biggest market for information technology. In the three months ended September, Cognizant earned revenue of $1.504 billion from North America, only $1.6 million shy of the $1.506 billion TCS earned from the region in the same period.