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Lesson from Infosys: Fear the founder!

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N R Narayana Murthy never ceases to surprise — the latest was his comment that leaving Infosys in 2014 was the biggest regret of his life. This was a disappointing statement from a man who had, in the past, spoken endlessly about the need for India Inc to have truly independent boards and an empowered professional management.

Infosys has a board, comprising some of the leading names in Indian industry, and a managing director whom Murthy hand-picked — yet, the co-founder chooses to make a public statement about his ‘regret’ of leaving early. The signal that goes out to the world outside is his lack of confidence in the board and the management.

Murthy has already made sure that the world knows about his unhappiness with the current Infosys chairman and the way the company is being run, following which the company took a series of actions to address his concerns. But just when everybody thought the issues had been resolved, Murthy dropped another bombshell, making it obvious he remains extremely unhappy.

It’s not that Murthy had left Infosys in 2014 in a hurry.

It was his second coming (he had retired in 2011 as non-executive chairman) after a desperate Infosys turned to him for guidance and made him executive chairman in 2013. In the process, he joined a long list of founders such as Michael Dell, Steve Jobs and Howard Schultz in the entrepreneurial hall of fame. Like Murthy, all of them returned to the companies they had started after either retiring or being ousted from them.

But in the process, Murthy, who was known for his obsession with following the company’s rules, returned to the company in an executive capacity even though he was well past the age of 65, Infosys’s official retirement age.

The moot point is what exactly Murthy is trying to achieve with his public outbursts against the board and the management, apart from forcing them to be on the defensive.

Infosys co-chairman Ravi Venkatesan, who is said to be close to Murthy, has been working hard to get the promoters and the management working together as ‘one Infosys’ and not operating in different pockets. One wonders whether those efforts have yielded any result.

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