R K Khanna Tennis Stadium is where I stayed on my first business trip with Infosys to Delhi. I grumbled but I got with the program. Our office assistant was the proud owner of ESOPs and would diligently switch off lights and the xerox machine to save electricity – he said he was contributing to improving the bottomline. He left to pursue politics after he got his shares. Many like him and me have had their lives transformed by the ESOPs – the nest egg gave us the freedom to follow our own paths with the assurance that we wouldn’t end up on the street if things failed. The Infosys of the 90s and early 2000s was driven, a start-up with a mission to make not just IT, but India better. It succeeded on both fronts. The energy and the promise of the future made the frugal-living and high-thinking philosophy perfectly acceptable and in a newly Liberalised India ‘compassionate capitalism’ resonated.
I learned so much from Mr Murthy, Nandan, the marketing team and others at Infosys. It was like a “What they don’t teach you at Business School” sort of intensive program, and the relationship has continued over the years. As the organization changed, evolved and transformed, so did I, mostly for the better (I hope). I left in 2003 so can’t have an insider perspective of the recent suggestions from their former Chairman and Board. But seeing the story today on the front page of Economic Times, I can say, as a marketer that it isn’t doing any good to the hard-won image of Immaculate Infosys.
It’s a new reality that activist shareholders are suddenly popping up – Cognizant, Tata Sons and now Infosys. Many are drawing parallels with what’s happening at Tata Sons, but unlike Mr Tata who represents owners who have a substantial stake and who is himself on the Board, the Infosys founders are not on the Board and are minority shareholders. Their stature and the respect in which they are held ensures front page coverage and gives them a clout disproportionate with their ownership, even if in the corporate governance sense their advice should be considered as just feedback to the Board.
I was thinking about what I would have done as Global Brand Manager in a similar situation. Here are 5 ideas – and they are just that – offered freely and with no strings attached – for consideration.
- Work for Rs 1. India loves the grand symbol. Mr Sikka could do what many others before him have done when faced with the challenge of being seen to make too much in a poor country. (He can keep the stocks and performance benefits which are probably the bulk of his pay.) He could say that if he meets his targets he will get the full money back, with interest.
- Corporate governance is no longer top of mind for clients as it has become an expected attribute of the IT industry. They are more focused on governance as it impacts them – sharing Infosys’ approach to business impact pricing, transparency, compliance with legal requirements in their home countries would reassure them that this is not going to impact how they do business. (Yes, it would be better if Infosys could explain those two massive severance packages but I don’t think they are obliged to, and as a marketer you don’t always get the ideal product.)
- Show mainstream media users – many of whom are small shareholders – how Infosys continues to do good through its CSR activities, both in India and abroad. The work done by this arm is considerable and consistent.
- Continue to win awards and do unique things – get some new superlatives like first, best, only, biggest. Infosys was a brand built on PR but coverage of the right sort has come down in the recent past partly due to a shift in strategy and partly because it is just plain hard to get organic coverage. Perhaps some of that huge cash pile can be used to do an aggressive market outreach like the ones undertaken by Accenture. (That would be a dream come true for any marketer.)
- Put a structured outreach plan for former Infoscions, media, investors, clients. Except for the ex-Infoscion target audience the other sectors are already covered, but it is an important community in the current context.
In 2009 I wrote a book titled “No Money Marketing” about building a brand with relatively small budgets. It was published by Tata McGraw-Hill and Mr Murthy did me the honour of launching it, along with Girish Paranjpe who was co-CEO of Wipro at the time.
I’m proud to have been a part of the team that helped put Infosys on the global map. A brand has to continuously evolve with the times and I wish it well under its new custodians.