Infosys: Murthy’s open letter on pay packets raises a stink

Infosys stocks fell on Monday by over 1% after co-founder NR Narayana Murthy opposed through a public letter a pay hike of 35% to the Chief Operating Officer when employees were getting 6-8% hikes

Photo by Hemant Mishra/Mint via Getty Images
Photo by Hemant Mishra/Mint via Getty Images

NH Economic Bureau

The second “tug of war” between Infosys founders and the management hit the IT bellwether’s shares of Infosys by over 1% on Monday.

Infosys co-founder NR Narayana Murthy had opposed on Sunday the pay hike of 35% to ₹12.5 crore a year for Chief Operating Officer UB Pravin Rao. Murthy said that when the compensation for most of the employees in the company was increased by just 6% to 8%, it was “not proper” and “grossly unfair” to the majority of Infosys employees. He also called the current governance standards of Infosys as “poor”.

Infosys Board, however, passed Rao's pay hike with 67% of votes, while 33% voted against it.

The shares of Infosys slipped on Monday by 0.94% to ₹1,011.25 a piece in early trade on the BSE. At NSE, shares of the company went down by 1.15% to ₹1,010.45.

Earlier, in February, the company’s founders had raised concerns over governance issues, compensation to CEO Vishal Sikka and the severance package of former finance head Rajiv Bansal. Infosys chairman R Seshasayee had then managed to bring about an uneasy truce. That truce though does not seem to have lasted long.

There may be merit in Murthy questioning the top management rewarding itself with huge hikes at a time when the IT industry is facing a slowdown, with even Infosys downing its revenue forecasts. But, is there a serious threat of Infosys’ high corporate governance standards falling, or is it that the founders are uneasy with changes in management style?

While it may be debated whether the promoters should make their differences public or not, there’s nothing wrong if constant accountability is sought from the Board.

Here is the full text of Murthy ‘s letter to the media soon after the Board’s decision on Sunday:

Dear Folks,

If you use the contents of this mail, please quote me verbatim and in full. Please do not paraphrase.

I have lots of affection for Pravin. Let me state you the facts.

I recruited Pravin in 1985 and had nurtured him throughout my stay at Infosys since then.

He had been sidelined. He was not even a member of the Executive Council at Infosys in 2013 when I came back. Kris, Shibu and I encouraged him, elevated him to the board, and made him the COO when we recruited Vishal as the CEO. So, this abstention has nothing to do with Pravin.

Those of us who have always stood for fairness in compensation and practised it, right from the day Infosys was founded, will have to demonstrate it when needed. This is a time when it is needed. Nothing more and nothing less.

I believe in striving towards reducing differences in compensation and equity in a corporation. You may not know that my Infosys salary at the time of the founding of Infosys was just 10% of my salary in my previous job. I ensured that my younger, co-founder colleagues got 20% higher salary over their salaries in their previous job even though I was 7 levels above them in my previous job and was 11 years older than them. I gave them huge equity compensation the like of which has never been replicated in this world. So, this abstention comes from somebody who has walked the talk.

I have always felt that every senior management person of an Indian corporation has to show self restraint in his or her compensation and perquisites. He or she has to fight for maintaining a reasonable ratio between the lowest salary and the highest salary in a corporation in a poor country like India. The board has to create a climate of opinion for such a fairness by their actions.

This is necessary if we have to make compassionate capitalism acceptable to a majority of Indians who are poor. Without compassionate capitalism, this country cannot create jobs and solve the problem of poverty. Experts tell me that capitalism may come to an end in the not-so-distant future if the current corporate leaders do not heed this advice in India.

Further, giving nearly 60% to 70% increase in compensation for a top level person (even including performance-based variable pay) when the compensation for most of the employees in the company was increased by just 6% to 8% is, in my opinion, not proper. This is grossly unfair to the majority of the Infosys employees including project managers, delivery managers, analysts, programmers, sales people in the field, entry level engineers, clerks and office boys who are toiling hard to make the company better. The impact of such a decision will likely erode the trust and faith of the employees in the management and the board. With what conscience can a decent person like Pravin (a man schooled in Infosys values for over 30 years) tell his juniors that they should work hard and make sacrifice to reduce cost and protect margin? I have got so many mails from these people asking whether this resolution is fair. No previous resolution in the history of the company has received such a low approval.

Finally, given the current poor governance standards at Infosys, let us also remember that these targets for variable pay may not be adhered to if the board wants to favor a top management person.


Narayana Murthy

With PTI inputs.

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