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As Flipkart turns 10, lessons it can learn from Infosys

There is a lot Flipkart, the poster boy of Indian e-commerce, can learn from Infosys. Maybe N.R. Narayana Murthy can be Flipkart’s co-founders Sachin and Binny Bansal’s best mentor. After all, Infosys is still one of the best companies to work for, holds a great level of respect in India and internationally, and is a jewel in Indian IT’s crown.

business Updated: Jan 16, 2017 12:08 IST
Sunny Sen
Flipkart

Co-founder and former chairman of Infosys Technologies NR Narayana Murthy. (PTI Photo)(PTI)

In 2015, Infosys got its first non co-founder chief executive. Vishal Sikka came from SAP, the $108 billion German software giant, to turnaround Infosys. By then the once Indian IT bellwether had started loosing its charm, it had slowed down, and wasn’t responding to the big shifts in global business.

But Infosys has come a long way since it started in 1981 as a seven-man startup to over one-and-half lakh employees firm. For 34 years, it was run by the co-founders as its CEOs – S.D. Shibulal retired in 2015 as the last co-founder CEO.

There is a lot Flipkart, the poster boy of Indian e-commerce, can learn from Infosys. Maybe N.R. Narayana Murthy can be Flipkart’s co-founders Sachin and Binny Bansal’s mentor. After all, Infosys is still one of the best companies to work for, holds a great level of respect in India and internationally, and is a jewel in Indian IT’s crown.

Flipkart is just ten years old. But in these 10 years it has gone through more top-level exits, loss in market cap, and fallen prey to its competitors, than Infosys did in the first three decades.

Arguably the times are different, and the world of internet is much fast-paced than the world in which Murthy was building Infosys. The customers, too, are discerning.

But what happened in Infosys for the first three decades is rare.

At the helm, in the beginning, was Murthy, till 2002 as its CEO. Under him, and even after him, Infosys was applauded for its business model, delivery excellence, leadership and corporate governance. It was also the first company to give stock options to its employees, in 1993. It was also the first company to get listed on the Nasdaq.

Murthy was clear – the baton would be passed from one co-founder to the other. Everyones role was defined – Nandan Nilekani (CEO from 2002 to 2007) was known as the strategist, Kris Gopalakrishnan (CEO from 2008 to 2011) was the technologist, and Shibulal (2008 to 2015) was great at delivery. Murthy, the chief mentor, held the team together.

Flipkart, too, grew in leaps and bounds, but even before the dust settled in Indian e-commerce settled, Sachin gave up his shoes as the CEO, and became the executive chairman in 2015. Binny took over.

At the peak of a market share war, Binny has been elevated as the Group CEO, when Flipkart, the mothership is facing stiff competition from its American rival Amazon.

Flipkart, despite being the largest e-commerce company is far from being listed; forget stock options for a large number of employees. Its valuation has fallen by a third to $5.5 billion, as valued by its investors.

Now, Kalyan Krishnamurthy, an executive who comes from Flipkart’s largest investor Tiger Global, where he was a managing director, will run the mothership.

It is said that Krishnamurthy was already calling the shots at Flipkart. He was the one was on the ground, talking to executives, motivating them and telling them how to steer the company ahead. However, if that is true, Flipkart’s drastic fall in value was during this tenure.

But, a smooth transition is important. Within days of Krishnamurthy becoming the CEO, a financial daily reported, three top-level executives have quit – Saikiran Krishnamurthy, head of Ekart; Surojit Chatterjee, senior vice-president of product management; and Samardeep Subandh, chief marketing officer.

Looking at the first 34 years of Infosys, perhaps the role of founders becomes a lot more important. Flipkart is far from mature, and perhaps needs a little more fostering, before it can be passed into the hands of an outsider.

Krishnamurthy, of course, will report to Binny, and so will the CEOs of Myntra and Jabong, PhonePe and Ekart.

On the other hand, in case of Murthy, he never went away. In June 2013, he came back as the executive chairman to get Infosys’ lost shine back. “This calling was sudden, unexpected, and most unusual. But, then, Infosys is my middle child. Therefore, I have put aside my plans-in-progress and accepted this responsibility,” Murthy had said in a statement then.

That is perhaps something the Bansals will have to look at. After all, Murthy can be easily credited to build the most successful startup of new India, and turn it into an IT behemoth, which still lives on the principles set by him.