Infosys recalls retired executive

Infosys recalls retired executive

India's pioneering IT firm has recalled one of its founders from retirement to head the company again, hoping his entrepreneurial and leadership record will help it to weather turbulent times.

Mr N.R. Narayana Murthy's appointment as executive chairman of Infosys is seen as a drastic measure as the company struggles with competition in a shrinking global technology services market.

From being an investors' darling, Infosys shares have declined more than 20 per cent over the past two years.

By contrast, shares of rivals TCS and HCL grew 40 per cent and 85 per cent respectively during the same period, signalling that Infosys' problems may be largely company-specific.

In April, it forecast full-year sales growth that missed analysts' expectations by up to 50 per cent, dragging down its shares to their lowest close in a decade.

"The board has taken this step keeping in mind the challenges that the technology industry and the company face and in the interest of all stakeholders, who have asked for strengthening of the executive leadership during this challenging time," Mr K.V. Kamath, Infosys' outgoing chairman, said in a statement on Saturday.

Mr Murthy, 66, who retired in 2011 as chairman, termed his recall as "sudden, unexpected and most unusual". His appointment is for five years and he wants his son Rohan as his executive assistant.

Pooling only US$250 (S$315) as capital, Mr Murthy helped found Infosys with six friends from a small apartment in western India three decades ago.

The company now has a market capitalisation of US$31 billion, and is India's third-largest IT firm with more than 155,000 employees worldwide.

The success of Infosys and some of its early contemporaries ushered in a technology industry that has come to define the confident, modern India.

But Infosys has slipped in recent times amid worries that its present leadership had failed to implement new strategies to keep growing in a market hit by a slowdown in the Western economies.

The company has been criticised for everything, from its method of choosing CEOs to its pricing strategy as well as what is seen as an insular and risk-averse culture. All four CEOs so far have been from the original group of seven engineers who founded Infosys.

The record of founder CEOs who returned to take charge of their companies is mixed. Apple's Mr Steve Jobs was a stunning success. The jury is still out on Mr Michael Dell.

Mr Jerry Yang's second act for Yahoo was a failure. In April, P&G recalled former boss Alan Lafley.

Indian experts say Mr Murthy's long experience as a technology pioneer could help provide strategic direction to Infosys as well as restore investor confidence. "Mr Murthy is one of the most respected, credible, capable leaders in corporate India right now. His comeback will definitely make big benefits to Infosys," Mr Rostow Ravanan, co-founder and chief financial officer of Mindtree, told CNBC-TV18.

Mr Murthy admitted turning things around at Infosys, which he called his "middle child", will be a challenge.

"The Infoscions are bright people, so my priority is to add value to the mission of the company," he told reporters at the company headquarters in Bangalore.

"(My comeback) is an exciting yet challenging opportunity."

mkritti@sph.com.sg


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