In its 32 years of existence, Infosys Ltd has had four CEOs, N.R. Narayana Murthy, Nandan Nilekani, S. Gopalakrishnan and S.D. Shibulal, all founders.

All these years, as founders took turns in the corner room—Murthy and Nilekani were perhaps the only ones who were shoo-ins for the job—younger leaders at Infosys, including Ashok Vemuri and Subhash Dhar, kept watching, waiting restlessly for their turn.

Vemuri, who quit on Wednesday, looks set to join mid-sized software firm iGate Corp. as its new CEO, and fulfil his ambition to run a company.

“It was clear that unless founders retired, there was absolutely no chance for any of us to get the top job," a senior Infosys executive who quit recently said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Over the past few years, even as Infosys lost market share to newer rivals such as Cognizant Solutions Corp., missed revenue forecasts, and continued to remain pessimistic on demand, no one thought the problem had to do with leadership.

And when the board eventually did so earlier this year, what did it do but turn back the clock?

When Murthy came back to become Infosys’ executive chairman and save the company, non-executive chairman K.V. Kamath moved out and Gopalakrishnan became vice-chairman.

The CEO, Shibulal, remained.

Globally, when a firm does not perform in a market where rivals are doing better, a CEO’s job is the first one to come under fire. For instance, Hewlett Packard Co. fired Leo Apotheker after a series of failed acquisitions and strategic bets, and Yahoo Inc. CEO Carol Bartz was fired unceremoniously over phone in September 2011 by the company’s board.

In each of the CEO successions at Infosys, the founders were always the preferred choice. Did the board even consider an outside candidate?

Perhaps not, at least according to another person directly familiar with such discussions in the past. He requested anonymity because he does not want to upset Murthy.

Even at Microsoft Corp., the world’s biggest software company, a CEO transition is under way with Steve Ballmer quitting, but the board is not looking to call back Bill Gates.

Most successful companies and their boards look at the future while selecting next CEOs.

The challenge of CEO turnover is one that boards may face more often than they would like, David A. Katz, a partner at law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen and Katz, wrote in a Harvard Law School blog.

“CEO selection is, first and foremost, about the future. As the adage goes, one picks a general for the next war, not for the last one. When a company has a successful CEO in place who has the full confidence of the board, the incumbent CEO will be in the best position to manage the succession process and determine the right person to lead the company through the challenges it may face in the future," Katz said in his blog post in June last year.

Murthy, who came back because of “extraordinary challenges" facing Infosys, also broke several unwritten rules of governance established under his own leadership. One of them was that no children of founders would ever work at Infosys. Rohan Murty, who came to assist his father in helping Infosys regain its lost momentum as an executive assistant, is now waiting for an approval from India’s corporate affairs ministry before being designated vice-president. Is he a future CEO candidate on the fast-track? Only the board can answer that question.

It is time Infosys’ board starts sending out the right message to company’s younger leaders. It is their responsibility to ensure that the brightest of next-generation leaders at Infosys do not lose faith in the way succession planning is done.

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