Three of the four board members—including former chairman R. Seshasayee—who resigned from Infosys Ltd in August hit back on Friday at founder N.R. Narayana Murthy for comments he made in an address to investors, potentially escalating a bitter war of words between the two sides.
Seshasayee, along with former independent directors Jeffrey Sean Lehman and John Etchemendy, sharply rebuked Murthy in a media statement and described his remarks as “patently false and slanderous accusations".
Seshasayee said Murthy’s remarks had forced him to defend himself against what he termed “personal attacks". Former Infosys chief executive officer (CEO) Vishal Sikka, who was the fourth board member to step down, was not a signatory to the statement.
“Since my resignation from the board of Infosys, I have kept away from making any public statements, despite provocations, since I sincerely want the company to move forward, and not be bogged down with the issues of the past," Seshasayee said in the statement, which was issued jointly with Etchemendy and Lehman.
“To quote an anonymous whistleblower letter that alleged many things, which have subsequently been proved baseless and false through multiple investigations by highly respected counsel, in order to give an impression to the audience that I lied to the shareholders, is patently offensive," added Seshasayee.
Earlier this week, Murthy had taken a direct shot at Lehman and Roopa Kudva, who remains on the Infosys board. He alleged that when he wanted to know the reason for paying Rs17.38 crore in severance to former chief financial officer Rajiv Bansal, Lehman said it was confidential and could not be disclosed; Kudva said the founders would have to sign a non-disclosure agreement if they wanted to know the reason, according to Murthy.
Murthy also hailed the overhaul of the Infosys board following the return of co-founder Nandan Nilekani as the company’s new chairman.
“You would all agree that the rejuvenation of the board has already begun with the resignation of Mr R. Seshasayee and some other board members. However, it is still a work in progress," Murthy told investors at a conference hosted by Investec India in Mumbai.
Seshasayee alleged that Murthy had taken the conversations with Lehman and Kudva out of context.
“The words that Mr Murthy attributes to Jeff Lehman and Roopa Kudva, from their private conversation with him, are also egregiously taken out of context," said Seshasayee.
The feud between Murthy and the previous board of Infosys, which included these four board members, dates back more than a year since the time Murthy and some of the other founders did not vote for Sikka’s extended tenure as CEO and a 55% salary hike in early 2016.
“An anonymous, so-called ‘whistleblower’ made outrageous charges against management; the board engaged several sets of outside counsel and investigators of impeccable reputation, and those investigators determined that every charge was false and without any foundation. For the good of Infosys, I wish Mr Murthy would stop quoting those lies as if they were reputable. For the good of Infosys, I wish Mr Murthy would stop defaming Mr Seshasayee and the other members of a board who have served with dedication and integrity, who have turned the other cheek when slandered, and who have acted only in the best interests of the company," Lehman said in the same statement.
The war of words was escalated earlier in August when Murthy wrote a letter to some of his closest advisors on 9 August, in which he claimed that at least three board members had complained to him about Sikka’s performance as CEO—a development that Mint first reported on 18 August.
On the same day, Sikka resigned and the board issued a scathing six-page statement that blamed Murthy for Sikka’s decision to step down. The statement spooked markets and wiped out nearly $4 billion of Infosys’s market value, which in turn prompted the latest board overhaul and Nilekani’s return to Infosys.
“I would also like to point out that Mr Murthy invited me to join the board and entrusted to me the Chair of the Audit Committee, while he was still the chairman. As late as February ’17, much after the alleged lapses took place, Mr Murthy also issued a press statement that I was a man of high integrity. I am therefore at a loss to understand the motivations for this persistent vendetta against me," Seshasayee said in Friday’s statement.
Etchemendy backed Seshasayee, saying that the board had done nothing wrong during his tenure as chairman.
“I am fully conversant with the details of the Rajiv Bansal issue and I can categorically state that at no point did Sesh say anything in public or, to the best of my knowledge, in private that was untrue or did not reflect the collective view of the Board," said Etchemendy.