With Vishal Sikka of SAP being appointed as the first non-founder CEO of Infosys, the world’s eyes are trained on the bellwether of the Indian IT industry’s next moves. Sikka, which literally means “coin” in Hindi, will be measured precisely by that – revenues – in the coming months in an organization struggling to keep pace with the blistering growth of Tata Consultancy Services and Cognizant Technology Solutions.
NR Narayana Murthy said in the announcement press conference, “I welcome our newest Infoscion...I am equally pleased to announce that our colleague for 28 years Pravin Rao has been elevated to COO" thus laying to rest all doubt about whether there would be a dual power center. Given his role at SAP, he is expected to have strong relationships with most of the senior executives of Fortune 500 companies. These relationships will definitely add muscle to Infosys’ sales teams.
Vishal’s exit from SAP is rumoured to have been caused by the internal power struggle between the American and German power centers, especially since the current CEO of SAP is American Bill McDermott.
So who exactly is this 47-year-old man who is taking over the reins from SD Shibulal on August 1, 2014?
1) Indian Roots
Vishal was born to Punjabi parents in Madhya Pradesh and raised in Vadodara, Gujarat. He did his schooling from Rosary High School and his Bachelors in Computer Science Engineering from Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda. His father was an engineer in the Indian Railways and his mother was a school teacher. His formative years were in India and the technical foundation was laid in the Indian school system. His twitter profile describes him as “Husband, Dad, Son, Brother, Friend. Student, Visitor, Thinker, Innovator. Occasional Surfer on life’s waves...”
He is an American citizen and he currently lives in California with his family. He is expected to travel between India and US and spend a significant amount of time in Bangalore.
2) Techie at Heart
Throughout his career, Vishal has constantly remained in touch with technology while also gaining managerial experience, unlike many technologists who go on to grow and lose hands-on technology know-how. After his Bachelors in Computer Science from Syracuse University and Doctorate (PhD) in Computer Science from Stanford University in 1996, he started his career at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) which was the hub of innovation in the 1980s and 90s. He later ventured out with his brother and started iBrain, which was acquired by PatternRX and his second venture Bodha.com which was acquired by Peregrine Systems.
At SAP, he is an Executive Board Member and the first CTO reporting directly to the CEO. He rose to this position in 5 years since he joined in 2002. His last known compensation was about 4.2 million euros (INR ~32 crore) per annum.
3) Future Technology Savvy
The next generation of technology products will focus on Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud areas. Vishal brings extensive knowledge in Cloud, Analytics, and Databases and to some extent in Mobile technologies. Infosys burnt its fingers with its Infosys 3.0 vision which was meant to be a Platforms business, moving away from its traditional application maintenance business. However, with his expertise the platforms play might be back on the table given its potential to provide exponential returns when executed well.
Vishal continued to work in technology and remain an innovator at SAP. An accident in Costa Rica when on holiday with his family apparently made him relook at his priorities and he broached his desire to quit SAP and work on newer technologies with broader impact to SAP founder Hasso Plattner. Plattner then convinced him to remain in SAP and innovate from within, with a free rein to do so. Thus was born SAP HANA (High-performance Analytic Appliance), a new type of relational database management system. HANA became a blockbuster product and was the fastest in the history of SAP to reach the $1 billion sales figure.
The ‘innovator’ credentials should help in attracting and retaining the next generation talent required to revive Infosys’s leadership pipeline that has been impacted with nearly a dozen senior executives in the past year when Murthy was at the helm.
5) Well Rounded Person
Vishal is not your average geek who has his nose buried in the technical journals with the exclusion of all else. He maintains his own blog called Timelessness from 2008 where he shares his views on a diverse range of topics – from childhood memories, Indian festivals, amplifying Human potential through technology and even rebuttals to unfair press. His favourite book is Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, about which he says, “Siddhartha is an extraordinary combination of the cultures of Germany and my native India, and a deep inspiration to an entire generation of Americans, the very 3 cultures that have shaped who I am”. And well, in what is probably the coolest thing about a senior tech executive, he loves the Matrix trilogy and the latest Bollywood flicks!