As Infosys looks for options after the exit of its CEO Vishal Sikka, company's celebrated co-founder Nandan Nilekani is being wooed by bankers, investors and former top executives to take up a leadership role in the organisation. It is highly unlikely that Nilekani, who left the company in 2009 to work for the government on Aadhaar project, would return as the CEO but could be persuaded to take on the role of a non-executive chairman or an ‘adviser’, a report by the Economic Times citing three people aware of the efforts said.
Another report by the newspaper said his return as as a non-executive chairman of Infosys board is imminent. Nilekani is "seriously considering" a formal role and has postponed a 2-month visit to the US to stay back in Bengaluru and discuss the details of his return, the report said, quoting multiple sources.
"The math has to work out for Nilekani to return. It's almost certain that he will come back as a non-executive chairman, but it's not a done deal yet," the Times of India quoted a source as saying.
The clamour to bring back Nilekani -- one of the most high-profile founders of the IT firm – had been growing for quite some time in various quarters. Top executives of 12 large mutual funds and insurers have written to Infosys’ board, asking that Nilekani be invited to join the board in a “suitable capacity”, the daily reported.
Nilekani a 'good face' to lead Infosys: Balakrishnan
V Balakrishnan, a former CFO of the software giant, on Wednesday openly batted for Nilekani to return to the company as the chairman. Balakrishnan said Nilekani's experience and understanding of clients made him a "good face" to lead the organisation in the current situation.
"Nilekani is a good face to have... I personally think if at all he comes back, he should come in as the chairman and try to identify a good CEO. That will be ideal situation," he told PTI.
Balakrishnan said that given the current situation, the board should consider getting Nilekani at the helm and asserted that the current chairman (R Seshasayee) and co-chairman (Ravi Venkatesan) need to step down.
Balakrishnan argued that Nilekani had "done well" during his tenure at Infosys and had been well connected with customers.
"Nilekani is a good global face and is most respected. Moreover, he has worked in large government projects... Aadhaar... he has the right credentials to come to the board," Balakrishnan said, but hastened to add that Nilekani's return is a "speculation" at this point.
In a sudden move, Infosys first non-founder CEO, Vishal Sikka resigned last week citing slander by founders. The Infosys board issued a stinging statement blaming co-founder N R Narayana Murthy for the CEOs resignation. Infosys has said it will find a CEO replacement latest by March 31, 2018.
On August 18, the day Sikka announced his resignation, investor advisory firm Institutional Investor Advisory Services (IiAS) said it favoured Nilekani being brought back on the board as its non-executive chairman.
IiAS said the Infosys board has been "unable to protect its CEO" and to select a successor, it must begin by "reinventing itself".
"It must convince Nandan Nilekani to join the board once again as its non-executive chairperson," it had said in a report, adding that Nilekani should not see this as any other corporate job as Infosys is at the heart of Indian IT and its success will foretell how the sector will position itself for future.
In fact, the war of words between the Infosys board and Murthy has been on for months now. Murthy, along with some former key executives, has alleged serious lapses in corporate governance and raised questions on executive pay as well as a USD 200-million acquisition.
Matters came to a head when an anonymous letter was sent to the market regulator earlier this year alleging that Israel-based Panaya acquisition by Infosys was overvalued and that some company executives may have benefited from the deal.
While an independent probe absolved the board of any wrong-doing, Murthy kept up the pressure on Infosys exhorting the company to make the full contents of the investigation report public.
Following Sikka’s resignation, the board launched a scathing verbal attack on Murthy blaming his "continuous assault" and demands as the reason behind Sikka’s extreme move.
It also ruled out a formal role for the co-founder in the company’s governance.