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UB Pravin Rao: Infosys’ President who had foreseen that company’s focus would shift back to outsourcing deals – The Economic Times

MUMBAI: Among the Infosys executives who were ever even remotely in contention for the CEO post — Mohandas Pai , V Balakrishnan, Ashok Vemuri and now BG Srinivas and UB Pravin Rao — the last is perhaps the least known. Last week, when Infosys disbanded its executive council and appointed two presidents, BG Srinivas and UB Pravin Rao, many concluded that the race to succeed D Shibulal had narrowed down to just two. Though Rao has seen very little public limelight, he is well-regarded and respected within the company, present and former Infosys executives say. Industry sources say Rao, 51, was on the ball about the changes that the company needed urgently much before Murthy came back. In that sense, his rise within Infosys actually began even before NR Narayana Murthy returned as chairman in June 2013. “Pravin was always more vocal about the changes that were coming,” one very close observer of the company told ET on condition of anonymity. Rao had foreseen that the focus of the company would shift back to bread-and- butter large outsourcing contracts as many as 5-6 quarters before Murthy came back, the person said. The focus would shift away from consulting to business operations and margins would fall, Rao had anticipated. “Everything he’d foreseen has come true,” the person said. Yet, in all this, Rao mostly remained out of public glare. People who have worked with him describe him as self-effacing, but very capable. “The retail (industry) vertical under Pravin (Rao) has shown steady growth despite being a sector that’s very competitive,” points out Subash Dhar, former head of innovation and sales of Infosys. Indeed retail, Infosys executives point out, was one of the first verticals within the company that started building solutions. In fact, many of the solutions, which are currently part of Infosys’ Platforms, Products and Solutions play, are from the retail vertical that Rao led. “Retail was way ahead in investing in solutions,” adds Dhar. Outside of the co-founders, Rao is the closest who comes to being one. He joined Infosys just five years after it was founded and was still operating out of a twostorey building in the city. Back then, it was yet to achieve any of its early success. The electrical engineering graduate from Bangalore University was hired after being interviewed by NR Narayana Murthy and NS Raghavan . “I joined Infosys at a princely salary ofRs 1,300 much to the dismay of my wellwishers, ignoring three other wonderful job offers,” Rao recollected a few years ago, when Infosys completed 30 years. The other quality that comes up time and again in conversations about Rao is his people skills. S Swaminathan, former CEO of Infosys BPO, says he encourages dissent and discussion. “He delegates well and carries his people along. These are qualities that stand out,” says Swaminathan. Rao enables ideas to germinate under his leadership, adds Dhar. Over time, Rao has taken on several leadership roles such as head of infrastructure management services and delivery head for Europe. He was heading the retail, consumer goods, logistics and life sciences verticals before his promotion last week. A few months ago, he was given additional responsibility for Infosys Leadership Institute, a position that was lying vacant since Mathew Barney, its previous head, quit in March last. BG Srinivas or Ashok Vemuri (who quit Infosys to join iGate in September), were more client facing and were also located in Infosys’ biggest markets . But Rao, who has mostly been based in India, to that extent, Rao has been less client facing, a criteria increasingly being considered as important to lead the business. But those who have worked with him refute the contention. “At that level, there is nothing like a client-facing role or not. Retail has marquee clients like P&G — it has been one of the fastest growing verticals for Infosys,” points out one person. Other associates say Rao has been in difficult client situations and has stayed calm, dealing with the situation in a balanced manner. The other perception about Rao is that he is not ambitious. “He’s diligent and hardworking and a great thinker, but probably not as ambitious,” says an analyst with an overseas brokerage. Rao was not part of the executive council when it was first formed. Rao has now been appointed to the Infosys board after former CFO V Balakrishnan resigned in December. The best praise for Rao also comes from people who were part of his team, “Pravin (Rao) is a Guru in the setup. He is a person who can give you a strong direction. Nobody understands Infosys like he does.”
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