miscellinous cartoon
miscellinous cartoon

Life turns a full circle for Nandan Nilekani

Even as Nandan Nilekani was reluctant to make a comeback to save the turbulence-hit Infosys after the sudden resignation of its first non-founder chief executive Vishal Sikka, he did make a comeback as non-executive vice chairman of the $10-billion company he co-founded in 1981.

People close to Nilekani term this comeback as nothing short of a miracle. After joining the company, Nilekani in a twitter message had mentioned “Joined Infosys at 26, re-joined it at 62. Life does turn a full circle!” 

A number of executives during their interaction with the Economic Times spoke on the circumstances which made Nilekani change his mind and make a comeback.

According to a veteran industry leader who shares a cordial relationship with Nilekani, “Nandan had drawn a clear line between himself and Infosys, once he left the company.

He had adjusted to life after Infosys very well. He wrote books, and got busy with a very public life with Aadhaar, politics and his funding of start-ups. Whenever I have tried to pick his mind on the company, his answer has been: I don’t comment on Infosys. His comeback is a miracle of sorts.” 

Unlike Nilekani, Murthy became increasingly vocal about his concerns over governance at Infosys. 

A former board member, who is still in touch with Murthy said, “Murthy was always vocal about his feelings. In fact, he was sometimes peeved that the other promoters did not speak out against the board even though they privately agreed and voted on important matters on his cue.”  

However, everything changed when the board accused Murthy of being the reason behind Sikka’s shock exit and for holding the company to ransom under the threat of media attacks to demand operational and management changes, the former board member added. 

According to a source close to Murthy, the wheels started moving on August 28. At that time, the Infosys board looked like it still had the upper hand. Both parties — founders and the board — were preparing for road shows to get institutional investors on their side. The endgame was an extra ordinary general meeting. The founders were preparing a plate of directors who they can present to the shareholders. 

Over the weekend, DN Prahlad, who had been appointed to the board on Murthy’s suggestion last year, broached the topic of his return with Nilekani, querying him specifically on his willingness to take on an advisory or non-executive chairman role, the ET mentioned. 

Even on August 28, Nilekani was reluctant to take another stint at Infosys, even as the stock value plunged. Infosys, by then, had lost Rs 34,000 crore in market capitalisation. On the same day, Prahlad roped in board members Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and Ravi Venkatesan to convince Nilekani to take a role at Infosys. 

According to sources, the logic offered to Nandan was that he was an insider with a proven track record. That institutional investors would decisively back him if he throws his hat in and most importantly, that would have Mr Muthy’s approval, said the source mentioned above. Nilekani was still reluctant — citing that he would need a clean slate to start afresh at Infosys. 

As news started to spread that Nilekani might make a comeback as an ‘advisor’ to the board, on August 29 a group of top executives of 12 large mutual funds and insurers wrote to Infosys’ board, asking that Nilekani be invited to join the board in a suitable capacity. 

According to an Infosys executive, this was a clear signal to the board that they would lose this battle if a shareholder vote came up. By August 29, the battle was over. 
Seshasayee had volunteered to quit even earlier but with Nandan stepping in, he was willing to resign immediately, said another executive, maintained ET. 

Thus, Nilekani’s comeback was a conspiracy of circumstances rather than an elaborate design.