Nandan Nilekani: Aadhaar architect set to turn peacemaker

A decade after leaving Infosys, Nilekani is back at the helm after the Board bowed to pressure from founders led by N R Narayana Murthy.

Published: 24th August 2017 11:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 24th August 2017 11:00 PM   |  A+A-

Nandan Nilekani. (File Photo | Reuters)


NEW DELHI: Nandan Nilekani, the Aadhaar architect who was sought by Narendra Modi government despite having fought elections on a Congress ticket, could well turn out to be the peace broker between the warring founders and management at Infosys.

A decade after leaving Infosys, Nilekani is back at the helm after the Board bowed to pressure from founders led by N R Narayana Murthy, who has been demanding a clean-up at the country's second largest IT firm. With an estimated net worth of USD 1.7 billion, Nilekani is also a serial investor and has put money into over a dozen startups.

The 62-year old served as Infosys CEO between 2002 and 2007. He was among the seven engineers, who along with the iconic N R Narayana Murthy and S Gopalakrishnan, set up Infosys in 1981. From a capital of USD 250, Infosys has today grown to be a USD 10.4 billion revenue software behemoth with a market capitalisation of over USD 34 billion.

On his appointment, Nilekani said: "I am happy to return to Infosys, now in the role of non-executive chairman and look forward to working with my colleagues on the Board and in executive management on the business opportunities we see before us..." Ex-Infosys CFO V Balakrishnan, who has been vocal in demanding a board rejig, said Nilekani coming in as the Chairman is a positive move.

"I think all the shareholders will welcome it. Nandan coming in will stabilise the ship," he said. At the end of June 2017, Nilekani along with his wife and two children held 2.29 per cent stake in Infosys. In 2002, Murthy had passed on the baton to Nilekani, who in turn made way for co-founder Gopalakrishnan taking over as the CEO in 2007.

Nilekani continued as co-chairman of the board of directors. Under the stewardship of Nilekani, Infosys had seen a 42 per cent CAGR in dollar revenue. He was appointed as the chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), a cabinet-ranking position, in July 2009. He resigned from this post in March 2014 to contest the 16th Lok Sabha election from the South Bangalore constituency on a Congress ticket, but lost.

Nilekani was made advisor by the Narendra Modi government to oversee the drive for a less-cash economy after demonetisation last year. Considered an execution man, Nilekani is credited with having rolled out India's biggest tech project, Aadhaar, under the previous UPA government. The challenges for Nilekani now are multiple.

The last few months have seen the founders and Board fighting a very public war that saw the company's image take a beating. By bringing in Nilekani through a "unanimous" Board approval, Infosys would also look at arresting the high attrition of senior level talent as well as key clients moving to opponents.

People close to the founders, who are also believed to have pushed Nilekani's case, saying he has the credibility and political capital to act as a conduit between the management and the founders. He is also seen as someone who the co-founders, led by Murthy, would listen to and one who can restore order in the troubled company, they said.

A prolific investor, Nilekani has invested in over a dozen startup ventures like Sedemac Mechatronics, publishing start-up Juggernaut, media venture The Print and e-commerce start-up 10i Commerce Services. Most recently, he launched a USD 100 million start-up fund in partnership with venture capitalist Sanjeev Aggarwal.

Nilekani is also the co-founder and chairman of EkStep, a not-for-profit effort that is working on creating a learner- centric technology-based platform for literacy of children. Born in Bengaluru, Nilekani is an electrical engineering graduate from IIT Bombay.

He co-founded Nasscom -- an industry body that today represents the USD 150-billion Indian IT industry -- as well as the Bengaluru chapter of The IndUS Entrepreneurs (TiE). He has also authored three books, including 'Imagining India' that discusses his ideas for the country's future.

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