It’s been a whirlwind few months for Vishal Sikka. It began when he suddenly left his job as executive and head of products at SAP at the beginning of May and it has continued as he prepares to take the helm at Infosys on August 1st.
When I spoke to him at the end of May, just ahead of the SAP Sapphire Conference, he seemed at peace with his decision to leave SAP in spite of the abrupt way that it happened, and ready to move on to whatever came next. He said he was considering a number of options, but was prepared to take the summer off and consider his next move.
As I wrote at the time, he left the door open though for something big, saying “if a great offer came along, one he couldn’t refuse, he would take it –and he hinted there were some possibilities moving so quickly it might happen.” As it turned out, that offer did come along in the form of an offer to become CEO of Infosys, a global consulting firm based in India with over 160,000 employees worldwide.
It’s worth noting from a financial standpoint, that offer was a doozy. In fact his reported salary of $5M a year with a total package value of over $7M annually makes him the highest paid IT CEO in India. It’s far less than U.S. and European CEOs with similar responsibilities get, but it appears to be a huge sum by India’s usual standards.
Sikka wrote recently in a blog post that attempted to summarize his abrupt transitions that his personal disruption mirrored the struggles that large organizations go through all the time, suggesting perhaps that his experience of moving from head of products at SAP to unemployed to CEO at Infosys, all in a matter of months, prepared him in unique ways to run a big company like Infosys. After all, he has experienced disruption first hand.
As we’ve talked over the course of the summer since he left SAP he said he looked forward to his time off and spending time with family, but his summer plans changed dramatically after he accepted the job at Infosys.
He admitted that when he was first approached by Infosys, he had little familiarity with company, but he was immediately struck by the positive energy inside the organization. He told me he can categorically say he is happy with the founders, board members, employees he has met to this point, and he told me the reception he has received has been “unbelievable.”
Sikka sees software as a way to change the world and he says as an optimist he believes it has the potential to improve the world. Further, he believes a company like Infosys is well-suited to enable that change and help make that happen.
“I see all the signs that is going to happen,” he said. He believes Infosys’s presence across industry verticals provides it with multiple opportunities to innovate and help transform the services it provides beyond simple, mundane changes.
Sikka also told me he sees software as a way to expand human abilities. In fact, he said that he is bothered by the word augmentation as it relates to software, which in his view is just about doing the same thing except bigger. Instead he believes solutions should be about amplification and expanding reach and knowledge and capability of an organization.
Sikka realizes his life is about to change in a fairly dramatic way and he has no illusions that the job ahead of him will be easy, but he sounded like he was looking forward to the challenge. He said he would use the rest of the summer before his August 1st start date to understand the company better, familiarize himself with its challenges and he hopes hit the ground running when he takes over in August.
He acknowledges that it will take time to understand the nature of the problems Infosys is currently facing, and stabilize things before moving forward, and he was not ready to share specifics in my conversations with him just yet. He only said, he is taking the time to learn about the company he will be running, so he can use his leadership position to affect constructive change.
Sikka told me in one of our early conversations that he hoped to surf this summer, something he stopped doing after joining SAP 12 years ago, and he was actually able to do that again. Now it’s time to get back to work and catch the wave to his next challenge. As he said as we closed our recent conversation, “A great change is coming.”
There is little doubt he will be under intense scrutiny, but he sounded like he was looking forward to facing the changes and challenges associated with that.