Ravi Venkatesan: In turbulent weather, it only helps to get a co-pilot
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Bengaluru: In a conversation with Mint, Ravi Venkatesan, 54, who in addition to being Infosys co-chairman is also chairman of Bank of Baroda, said that one of his immediate priorities would be to align all stakeholders around the transformational journey that Infosys is in the midst of.
Why did you agree to take on this role as co-chairman?
Because the board asked me to. But also because I love Infosys. Just like the Idea of India (Sunil Khilnani’s book), the idea of Infosys is a powerful one; Infosys remains a vital institution of our country. It’s important that it continues to flourish.
Was this decision solely the board’s or was it made after some of the founders suggested it?
This was a decision of the board. Why did the board decide to go for a co-chairman? Simple because when an aircraft is going through turbulent weather, it only helps to get a co-pilot.
Questions have been raised by some of the founders against the board and even against the management. So how would you get both the founders and board aligned and make sure this is not a distraction for the management?
For the record, I was close to the founders of Infosys before I joined the board. What they accomplished was incredible. I hope to remain close to them long after I cease to be on the board. Equally, I believe in the strategy that (CEO) Vishal Sikka has set out for transforming Infosys. I intend to do my very best to see that he succeeds in this mission. Everything else is a sideshow. I don’t see any contradiction here.
How do you rate Vishal’s leadership in the three years that he has been CEO now?
I think Infosys has done somethings incredibly well under Vishal’s leadership. We have a bold and differentiated strategy which customers are excited about; customer satisfaction is at an all-time high. Most employees are energized by the vision and strategy. Vishal and his team have built on the momentum they inherited and closed the gap with competition. Many seeds for the future have been sown and we see the green shoots in many areas—in AI, in automation, with initiatives like design thinking. That said, the transformation is a work in progress. Some things aren’t working as intended and course corrections are being applied. There are pockets of underperformance which represent opportunities. We need to rapidly scale up things that are working. There are capability gaps that need to be fixed. But overall, I am optimistic about our prospects.
How will the co-chair arrangement work? How will you delineate roles to make sure there’s no overlap?
Sesh (R. Seshasayee) and I have known each other for 20 years and worked on the Infy board for six years, so we are quite comfortable with each other. We have decided that there are some areas that he will continue to lead such as overall leadership of the board or investor outreach while in other areas like strategy or talent I will work more closely with Vishal and his team. We have decided that we will work as partners rather than compartments.
What are your immediate priorities?
My first priority is to help align all stakeholders around the transformation journey that we are on. The second is to work closely with Vishal in helping build a world class leadership team that can execute the transformation strategy.
Your elevation has been seen positively and the general view is that relations between the board and the founders will improve now. What’s your take on that and how do you intend to repair relations with the founders?
I have the greatest respect for the founders of Infosys and especially for Mr (N.R. Narayana) Murthy who has been a mentor and friend for a long time. I believe that everyone wants the same thing—which is to see Infosys flourish and prosper from the incredible opportunities that are being thrown up by technology shifts. The board and leadership team wants this. Investors want this. Employees want this. The founders want this. However, this is a journey through uncharted waters and so the key is to earn the trust of all stakeholders so we stay together through the ups and downs of this voyage. Trust really is the key. This requires intense, honest and ongoing dialogue. It also requires courage, willingness to experiment, assimilate feedback, learn and change.
After a stellar year in 2015-16, the last 12 months have been slow by Infy’s lofty standards. What in your opinion needs to be fixed immediately in order to get back the company to industry-leading growth?
This has been a tough year for everyone with growth slowing and severe commoditization. Infy’s performance must be seen not just in absolute terms but in the context of the industry. Vishal has already commented on our performance and what he and the team will do. I personally believe we have to more aggressively move investments and our brightest people from more commoditized areas towards our best growth prospects which are in areas such as digital, cyber security, AI, IOT and so on. Our job as a board is to support management in moving much more quickly on the many opportunities we have.
Will you reduce your other board commitments now that you’re taking up this role? Will you remain chairman at BoB?
The transformation of BoB is also a work in progress. (P.S.) Jayakumar and his team have worked really hard and we are seeing the green shoots of their labour. I would love to see it through if that’s what the government also wishes.