NRN – Messiah 2.0?

Why do I think that NRN coming back to Infosys is a desperate move by the company?

First and foremost, we have to accept and digest the fact that it was Infosys’ game to lose, in the first place. They were ahead in the race, had mostly everything going for them (including world figures like Thomas Friedman giving free (paid?) advertisements), and, at that point, the best value system and the best street-cred among all the other competitors. And they came tumbling down from such a position to where they are now – a good deal due to great execution and some nimble manoeuvres by the competition, but a great deal due to their own internal issues. In my opinion, one of the biggest reasons is their refusal to acknowledge the shifts in the industry and their adamancy in sticking to the same principles, which ironically were conceived and shaped by NRN himself.

So, now Infy is getting NRN to come back for another stint at the helm, exactly like Sunil Gavaskar coming back out of his retirement to save Indian batting, and like Kamaraj coming out of his grave for another term as Chief Minister – except that those two things didn’t actually happen.

A good organization, especially in the IT services world, is never dependent on individual brilliance – ask NRN if you have doubts. In fact, NRN-led Infosys taught us over and over again till our brains fried that individual brilliance cannot and should not be depended upon. CMM level-2 kids stuff, you know? If you have the repeatable processes in place, any individual is replaceable, they said. So, it is a strange phenomenon that they scurry back to CMM level-1 the moment they see a failure they cannot seem to patch.

NRN did his part. And he moved on. That’s the nature of running a corporation. Every stellar leader has moved on at some point in time. Yes, Steve Jobs came back, but Infosys isn’t dealing with that kind of a business and NRN is no Steve Jobs. And NRN is 66. If your company cannot go from A to B without running back to the old man again, they they have got a serious problem in hand. What if NRN gets a serious health issue 6 months down the lane? Would they shut down Infosys, pour down a pint of beer and sing kumbaya?

NRN was a great leader. He knew how to mobilize his forces to execute as well as he did. But he did it years back, when Infosys probably had less than 50% of its current workforce, dealt with a fraction of the current business, had a great process to imbibe its values to every employee, made them execute well and the competition were figuring their way into the industry. None of these are true now. So, getting NRN back is also a gamble, if you consider getting Kamath as a gamble.

So, what is Infy hoping for here? A wave of positive energy spread among employees and shareholders alike, a possible rally of its stock value and a message of guarantee to the clients that the Mysore Magician is back in business. It is so obvious that it is sickening. A company that prided itself on delivery excellence is now hoping that a single man’s tired old face would fetch such short-term, non-tangible benefits, that would somehow put the company back in track for the long-term.

If there are tangible plans to get the glorious past back, they why can’t any able leader execute those plans? Why specifically NRN, unless you are just desperate for brand NRN to do something for you? Or, if you are hoping for his execution excellence, what about two years later when NRN might not be able to execute as well?

The biggest problem with Infosys is that they had great leaders in NRN and Nandan that they failed to create any more leadership. The rest had it easy and were not able to cope. So, I guess NRN thought long and hard, and decided that it was his responsibility to create that leadership over the next five years, a job he failed to do last time. That he is able to do this again at this age for the company he created, is immensely respectful and is the mark of a great man. And he might actually pull off the miracle of getting Infosys back to brand positive. But, unfortunately, that doesn’t automatically make it the right thing to do.

P.S: Rohan Murthy #meritocracy #youremember

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