Nandan Nilekani, the architect of Aadhaar, is set to return to Infosys, the company he co-founded 36 years ago at the age of 26, as non-executive chairman in the next few days.
He will come for a predetermined period with the aim of achieving a bunch of predetermined goals, mainly identifying the next CEO and giving him enough air cover to find his bearing in the top job. Restoring investor, customer and employee confidence in the company will be another priority.
Nilekani, who until the weekend was very sure that he would not take a formal position in Infosys — he quit in 2009 to join the Manmohan Singh government as chairman of UIDAI — was persuaded to rethink by well-wishers, big investors and crucially some board members. Infosys co-chairman Ravi Venkatesan and independent directors Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and D N Prahlad spent several hours at his home on Monday.
Sources say things are still fluid at the moment with Nilekani yet to sign off formally on his comeback because a number of things – including a buy-in by founder N R Narayana Murthy into this plan — have to fall in place before a formal announcement.
Said a source, “The math has to work out for Nilekani to return. It’s almost certain that he will come back as a non-executive chairman, but it’s not a done deal yet.”
On a hectic Wednesday, things started moving quickly once it became public that Murthy had cancelled an investor call scheduled for the evening. Though the reason given was ill health, it’s believed it was also to allow all the different pieces that are in motion now to play out.
Twelve domestic mutual funds and insurance companies told the Infosys board on Wednesday morning that they want Nilekani to return in a “suitable capacity”. Talks are ongoing with a few of the large, international investors.
Nilekani’s arrival will also mean that the board will have to be reconstituted. According to sources three to four directors are set to resign: chairman R Seshasayee, directors Roopa Kudva and Jeff Lehman. Possibly even co-chairman Ravi Venkatesan.
The directors who seem safe are D N Prahalad, who is a distant relative of Narayana Murthy’s and joined the board in October 2016; D Sundaram, the latest to join the Infosys board (June 2017), and Punitha Kumar Sinha. Though Biocon chairman Kiran Mazumdar Shaw is a close friend of both Murthy’s and Nilekani’s, it isn’t clear whether she will stay or go.
Unless a director resigns, a board member can be removed only through an extraordinary general meeting at which the resolution has to be passed by a majority of the shareholders. It’s believed nobody wants to go down that path with resignations on the cards.