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“It has to be taken as a marathon”
Kris Gopalakrishnan, Executive co-Chairman, Infosys, led the company through the recession and recently passed on the CEO baton to SD Shibulal. He talks to Virat Bahri on the Infosys leadership and succession model and what will be expected from the future leaders of the company
Issue Date - 27/10/2011
B&E: In a few years, Infosys will be led by its first non-founder CEO. How do you view the transition and how has the company prepared itself? How do you think the non-founder will approach the business?
Kris Gopalakrishnan (KG): We have been preparing for this since 30 years. We knew even then that definitely the company is going to be led by non-founders one day. So we have been preparing for this. The company is constantly changing. No company is the same. The environment is changing, business & customers are changing; so we are constantly changing. Unless you change, you will not be relevant. We are changing as required by the market. There will be changes in approach (by the non-founder CEO) but they will be primarily led by the market changes and the environment where we are operating. As long as we select the right people and manage the transition well, the company will continue to be run as efficiently as is necessary in the environment in which we are operating.

B&E: From the outside perspective, it looks as if Infosys is led more by a strong set of processes than by people. What is your take on which has worked more for you?
KD: The thing is people, process and technology are the three pillars, which we need to look at. I would say that all these matter. Some companies would depend on just one aspect; we look at all. In 1999, we did a comprehensive internal assessment. It looked at various aspects of the business and also at the results. We realised that we have informal processes for leadership,but no formal processes. We didn’t have a model, which is the technology aspect. We created the Infosys Leadership Model, we created a process to implement that model and the result is the Infosys Leadership Institute and our leadership development programme. We are trying to ensure that we look at it more holistically and do all the things that are necessary.

B&E: What are the traits that you would look for in the new responsible leader?
KG: The basic model is the same. We look for a person with high integrity, entrepreneurial spirit, driven, self motivated, one who understands technology and who has a successful track record of working in the Infosys context; as ultimately, the whole thing has to be delivered in the Infosys context. Some elements can be more or less from person to person. The person would also have weaknesses; you can augment the weaknesses with processes and technologies and people who support the leader. Ideally, that’s how the entire process should work.

B&E: CEOs of Infosys in the past, including you, have personified the company in many ways. To what extent do you think it will be necessary for the new CEO?
KG: The CEO is the first person and so in that sense, you are the brand personality for the company. To that extent yes, the correlation will be there. But to me, if you choose the right person, that is a positive rather than a negative. A smart person will understand that you have to also give face to other people. If there are other good people in the organisation, you have to allow them to also be the voice of the company. They must get the visibility required. I have tried very hard myself to ensure that I give visibility to others and that the company is not identified with one person.

B&E: The millenial workforce of today is identified with unique personality traits like the need for quick gratification. What is your view on how leaders must adapt to this workforce?
KG: You need to respect the individual, give them the space & appreciate the work they are doing. Lots of people do not work today just for the money; they work because it is the right thing to do. They can associate themselves/identify themselves with the process and things like that. It is slightly different from the command & control structure, which has to be adjusted for the new generation. If they don’t feel that their voice is heard, they are appreciated or given space to operate, they will not identify themselves with the company and you will not get 100% output from them. As far as expectations are concerned, today the world is generally becoming faster and faster, and the expectations are there as a result of the environment.

B&E: How do large organisations with bureaucratic processes and set ups manage the innovation process better? In the global technology environment of today, a number of large companies seem to be getting most of their innovations from M&As. How is it in your case?
KG: You do require a set of disciplined processes in a large company, else there will be chaos. To me, innovation is a separate process. If done right, it can also succeed in a large organization. There are separate advantages in a large organization. You can scale up faster, funding is easier, et al. You have to understand that the process has to be different; that is how it has to be managed. We expect innovation from both within and outside. We have to preferably encourage innovation from within, as we have 6000 projects with lots of clients, so there is a huge opportunity for innovation.


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