Being one of India’s best-paid CEOs isn’t all it is cut out to be

Tough job.
Tough job.
Image: Reuters/Stringer
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As tempting as it may sound, being one of India’s highest-paid CEOs is not all fun.

“Earlier today, somebody asked me this question: Are you happier now than you were two-and-a-quarter years ago? The answer to that is no, I am not,” Vishal Sikka, chief executive officer of India’s second-largest IT company, Infosys, said in an interview with the Hindustan Times newspaper. “Am I less happy than I was two-and-a- quarter years ago? No, I am not. So it is the same.”

Sikka joined Bengaluru-based Infosys in August 2014 after spending 12 years at German software major SAP AG. It was one of the sector’s most talked-about appointments as Sikka is the first non-founding CEO of Infosys.

The timing was crucial as Infosys was struggling with slowing revenue growth and mass exodus of top talent. It was also grappling with changing client demands.

Sikka was seen as an unusual choice as the Stanford University alumnus is best-known for leading innovation and building software products at SAP, which is quite different from Infosys’s core business: back-end jobs.

He joined Infosys at the age of 47 as the highest-paid executive in Indian IT with an annual package of over $5 million. That eye-popping figure has come at a cost, though.

Sikka says his job has affected even his physical well-being. “My health has suffered for sure. It is a very complex transformation we are doing (at Infosys), far more complex than people understand,” Sikka said.

“It is true that I could be doing a far less stressful job for far more money much more easily. There is no doubt about that,” Sikka said in the interview. “But I had a discussion with a famous industry leader in India. He said to me, ‘Vishal, beyond the revenue and margin and profits, just remember that parents in this country raise their children dreaming that they will work for Infosys.'”

While Sikka did manage to pull performance up to some extent, Infosys is still far from industry-leading growth. Last month, it reduced its annual revenue growth guidance for FY17 for a second time to between 8% and 9% from around 10.5% and 12% earlier. Infosys’s guidance is conservative compared to Nasscom’s estimate that the IT industry will grow by between 8% and 10% in FY17.

Conflict with founders?

Sikka brushed aside reports of differences with the Infosys co-founders and said that he regularly interacts with former chairman NR Naryana Murthy.

“I meet him (Murthy) four-to-five times a year, whenever it is possible. I met him a few months ago in London,” Sikka said. “I was on a flight with Kris (Gopalakrishnan, another founder and former CEO of Infosys) recently… I have a wonderful relationship with them. Beyond that, what can I say? People have a lot of time on their hands,” he said.