The twice-born, middle-class Brahmin boy from Malleswaram, Bangalore has now twice fallen for the same vice: sexual misconduct withwomen at the workplace. By his sheer star-wattage and brilliance, he managed to resurrect his career after he was fired by Infosys in 2002. However, after the current sex scandal, it’s hard to see a second comeback for Phaneesh Murthy.
Popularly known as the ‘other Murthy’ at Infosys, 48-year-old Phaneesh had a meteoric career at India’s second largest IT services firm, donning many roles and credited with taking the Infosys brand global as the company’s global sales head along with company founders N R Narayana Murthy and Nandan Nilekani. Phaneesh didn’t shy away from claiming credit for taking Infosys’ US revenues from $2 million to over $700 million under his stewardship as global sales head.
In fact, in the early 2000s, the smart money was on him to become the first non-promoter CEO of Infosys. The company had begun to actively groom him and promote him publicly, making him a director of Infosys and Infosys BPO in 2000.
And he threw it all away by getting into an ill-judged relationship with his secretary Reka Maximovitch, a Bulgarian American national, who charged him with sexual harassment. Infosys was quick to give the boot to Phaneesh even as stories of his tearful meeting with his mentor Narayana Murthy did the rounds.
Phaneesh’s wife Jaya, also an IIM-A alumnus, quit the board of Infosys Foundation and the relations between the Infosys promoters and Phaneesh have stayed frozen. The company had to cough up $3 million to settle with Maximovitch out of court.
Phaneesh, the quintessential middle-class dreamboat — BTech degree from IIT- Madras, an MBA degree from IIM-Ahmedabad, and then on to a global career at a technology company — was soon plotting to resurrect his career and image, both of which he managed to do with loads of help from his wife.
Within a year, he founded Quintant Services with Jaya as his partner and backed by the GMR group, which in late 2003 was swallowed by California-headquartered iGate. Murthy was given the task of turning iGate into a globally competitive and profitable IT services provider to take on the outsourcing biggies from India and the established giants in the US.
After eight years at iGate, serving as the company’s president and CEO from 2008, Murthy’s business acumen and leadership abilities were backed by private equity major Apax Partnerswhen he made a bold bid to buy Mumbai-based IT company Patni Systems for $1.22 billion. Patni was double the size of iGate. It was a leveraged acquisition, the biggest in Indian IT, betting on Murthy’s prowess to pull faster growth in a slowing outsourcing industry. The deal was memorably described by an iGate employee as “buying a Ferrari with a credit card”.
Phaneesh, indeed, got a Ferrari from the delighted board for such a bold move. Uncharacteristically, he chose a grey-coloured Ferrari to the ubiquitous red. Known for his love of extreme sports – sky-diving, paragliding — he spoke fondly of being beaten by his son in a game of squash. He has two boys, one in college and the other in school. The Patni deal made Murthy the chief of a billion-dollar enterprise; something, he argued, that would help him win big deals.
“But that growth story didn’t play out as expected though the jury is still out on the success of the oversized acquisition,” said an investment banker who advises iGate. There’s speculation that iGate’s tepid growth, declining stock price and a huge debt pile had some of Murthy’s backers worried. The Roiz affair galvanized that discontent prompting the board, which once backed him totally, to pull the plug.