Infosys Crisis: Can Founders Ever Walk Away From Their Companies?

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Go to any leadership seminar and the first lesson that is bandied about is the ‘art of letting go’. CEO coach and leadership guru Marshall Goldsmith describes this as a pre-requisite for a happy and engaging life, because if we cannot let go, we end up carrying the stress, which impacts us as well as those around us.

A recent example of how this mantra works was played out at Infosys, once the darling of investors and innovators alike – thanks to the high standards of corporate governance that its founders set for themselves. The tussle between N R Narayana Murthy and his handpicked successor Dr. Vishal Sikka turned so ugly that the latter quit in disgust and the Board stated unequivocally that finding a lateral entrant to helm the company would be impossible.

Read more: Infosys’ Blunder: Throwing Baby With The Bathwater

Much has been said about the tussle between the two czars of the corporate world (Read the story), what made headlines was the fact that for a company, that laid so much value for corporate governance, it’s former chairman resorted to selective media leaks to get his point across – or take potshots at his successors – based on whichever side the reader may be supporting.

In fact, barring a couple of Murthy’s close confidants, public opinion has been by and large against the founders – the sharp tanking of Infosys shares indicates that public sentiment favors Dr. Sikka. The fact is that under his charge, the company reported six successive quarters of revenue growth, didn’t it? 

Be that as it may, the question that we posed in the headline makes for a no-holds barred debate. The story of Ratan Tata relinquishing his position and coming back to oust his own nominee (Cyrus Mistry) is still fresh in public memory. So, what is it that makes a successful leader want to ‘Fevicol’ his bottom on to the seat of authority?

Is it paranoia about the fate of the enterprise? Is it the feeling of being left out of decision-making? Do founders and CEOs suffer from illusions of grandeur that without them, their company will die?

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And, in case all of this were to be true, how is it that some of the behemoths of world industry have seen leaders successfully negotiate change and navigate through unchartered waters and taking their company to greater glory? The case of IBM, Ford Motors, Intel and scores of others come to mind instantly.

The answer is quite simple. The Indian mindset is incapable of ‘letting go’. Noted economist Omkar Goswami pointed out in his open letter (read it here) to Murthy, “Learn to walk away, as you had promised when handing over the reins to Vishal.”

Read more: Vishal Sikka vs Infosys: Corporate Governance In Question

Despite some of the Hindu scriptures reinforcing the need to ‘walk away’ (the most notable being the Bhagavad Gita that extols the virtue of performing one’s action without seeking reward), this is something that most Indians find tough to do. Why companies? We find it tough to free our children from our power!

We decide what they should study, which college they should attend and what jobs they should take up. Many of us even go to the extent of deciding whom our child should marry!

In a country where statistics indicate that children are coerced to follow in their parents’ footsteps (in some cases live the parents’ dream), how can one expect the owner of a company, that too one that charted new territories when it came to investor returns and corporate governance, to relinquish his authority?

The same goes with the Tatas too as well as for most of the family run businesses that dot the corporate firmament of the country. Recently, there was a major debate about nepotism in the Indian movie business (Bollywood). To think that corporate India is any different would be foolish.

Of course, the only difference is that the big guns usually set themselves up on a pedestal while advising their puny cousins from the small enterprises about the need to have professional management instead of family hierarchy.

It is another matter that when it comes to their own enterprises, these corporate honchos revert to the age-old axiom of ‘keeping it all in the family.’

Also read: 7 Key Takeaways From Vishal Sikka’s Resignation Letter

(Raj Narayan is the Chief Content Officer at Trivone Media Network and works as a corporate and life coach who uses Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) skills to build awareness and help individuals and teams to ‘Unleash Their Latent Potential’. More details from www.novaindia.net