Infosys looks beyond its founders to choose its leader: SAP’s Sikka is CEO

Sikka was picked from a short list of four candidates, both from within and outside Infosys.

By: Reuters Written by Sandeep Singh , Johnson T A , Kumar Anand | New Delhi | Updated: June 13, 2014 4:28:42 am
Sikka with Murthy in Bangalore on Thursday. (Source: Express photo by Kashif Masood) Sikka with Murthy in Bangalore on Thursday. (Source: Express photo by Kashif Masood)

Ending months of speculation, Infosys on Thursday announced the name of Vishal Sikka, 47, the former chief technology officer and executive board member at enterprise software maker SAP, as its first non-founder Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Managing Director (MD).

Sikka will be inducted as a whole-time director of the board on June 14, said the Bangalore-based company. His entry will see the exit, from executive roles on the board, of company founder N R Narayana Murthy, co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan, as well as the stepping down of the last of the founder CEOs S D Shibulal on August 1. Murthy’s son Rohan Murty, who joined the company in June last year as his father’s executive assistant, will also step down on June 14.

This signals a generational change of leadership at India’s second largest IT services company, w\ith all its original founders, including Narayana Murthy, moving into non-executive roles for the first time in its over three decades of existence. Sikka will also be the first Infosys CEO to be primarily based in California.

Sikka was picked from a short list of four candidates, both from within and outside Infosys. “When the board asked me to become the next leader of Infosys, I think it would be fair to say that it was a matter of tremendous pride and honour to accept to be the leader of an iconic company — a company that has been built by pioneers and has put India on the map of the digital world,’’ said Sikka, after he was formally introduced as the Infosys CEO-designate in Bangalore on Thursday.

Sikka joins Infosys at a time when its domestic peers have been growing faster and the company has witnessed almost 10 top-level resignations across the world. The rumours of Sikka replacing Shibulal have been doing the rounds ever since he resigned from the executive board of the German software major and also relinquished his position as the head of products and innovation at the company.

Sikka is credited with developing HANA — an in-memory database — along with Hasso Plattner, a co-founder of SAP AG. Many in the technological space say that HANA is SAP’s future.

Interestingly, Sikka, who studied Computer Engineering at the MS University of Baroda, is not an IIT alumnus — something that he has in common with newly-named Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri and Microsoft chief Satya Nadella, who were both just a year apart at the Manipal Institute of Technology near Mangalore in Karnataka.

Sikka, whose mother was a school teacher and father an Indian Railways draftsman, grew up in Rajkot and Vadodara. While he started his education in a Gujarati-medium school in Hadmatiya, Gujarat, where his father was posted for few years, Sikka later moved to a Kendriya Vidyalaya. After MS University, he went to Stanford Univeristy for a PhD in Computer Science. His family, including his parents and brother, are now settled in California.

His batchmates remember him as a “studious collegemate”. “He was brilliant in Maths and other Science subjects,” said a source who grew up in the same Railway colony in Rajkot where Sikka lived with his parents in a one-bedroom apartment for almost six years.

“As far as I can recall, he did not complete the four-year course (in MS University) and instead moved abroad for further studies,” said Divyang Shah, who was a batch senior to Sikka and is now owner of the Vadodara-based IT company Electrosoft.

“When he was in his third year in 1989, he decided to move to the US and carried his credits over to Syracuse University where he completed his BS in Computer Science,” he said. Shah said Sikka used to visit him at the university hostel where they would study for hours discussing complex problems.

“His elder brother, Digvijay Sikka, was in my batch. Their family had come from Rajkot. One of our classmates told me some months back that Vishal is one of the most successful persons from the batch… Outstanding is the word we use while discussing him,” said Ganesh Jivani, also his senior, CEO and MD of Vadodara-based Matrix Comset, an IT-based company.

While he has been living in the US for several years now, Sikka seems to be a keen follower of Bollywood cinema. Among the 102 people he follows on Twitter are Amitabh Bachchan, Farhan Akhtar and Dia Mirza. Others in the list include the Dalai Lama, Deepak Chopra, Bill Gates and  Barack Obama.

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