Neither tired nor retired but simply happy!

Who would not like to be the chief executive of the USD 6 billion 1,30,000 strong company come to be recognized globally as among the best known IT addresses in this part of the world? There may be “hundreds” of accomplished contenders, but one contender who the company founder described as “a key anchor builder” has just announced his sudden exit from the scene leaving ample room for IT bellwether Infosys board to name a new successor.

While this gives the Infosys board of directors the freedom to act without the pain or pleasure of taking a call on an eminent colleague of 17 years, the question that begs an answer is why did T V Mohandas Pai, member of the Board of Directors, and head – administration, education and research, Finacle, human resources, and Infosys Leadership Institute, suddenly call it a day?

An answer doing the rounds is that he perhaps saw the writing on the wall and acted accordingly. To lend credence to the ‘piqued’ theory, Pai did fume at what he called ‘founders versus professionals’ debate on the seniority issue. Officially, though he has denied any rift on the leadership issue being the cause for his exit from the company.

But even if it (rift) were true, the billion dollar question is how many leaders in corporate India see the writing on the wall and summon the courage to call it a day and leave on a high? Power serves as the ultimate elixir of life.

Pai actually represents the ever shrinking breed of successful professionals across various walks of life in India who dare take that one big strategic decision of their work and life and perhaps time it right. In recent times Atul Sobti quit Ranbaxy having turned around a few quarters post Japanese acquisition, but obviously he did so not at his own bidding. He announced his exit with a successor his junior, in tow.

Everyone today is asking Pai (like batting great Sunil Gavaskar was asked on his sudden exit announcement) “why now”? Tomorrow it might well have been another question “why not now?” Pai has traversed ably the thin line dividing the two whys.

There are many who say the sudden exit would add to the twin woes of the company fighting controversial re-structuring plan incidentally unleashed by Pai himself and leadership challenges. But has not Pai made it easier to solve the leadership issue? He has opted out amidst fears that he perhaps might not be best candidate for the job on which the verdict is yet to be out.

Pai has asserted that he never aspired to be the chief executive but perhaps many might not buy his argument and dub it as another ‘grapes are sour story’. But his past perhaps holds the mirror. In 2006, he voluntarily demitted the office of CFO to lead efforts in the areas of human resources and education and research. This was when he was hailed as among the best CFOs in this part of the world.

During an informal conversation when I met him for the first time early 2005, Pai displayed a deep passion for training and education, incidentally an area that he aims to venture and grow outside Infosys. The passion area was visible in his eyes as he briefly talked about his new venture the day he announced his exit.

Sticking to one’s passion area strategy apart, Pai’s exit has latent learning for professionals of all hues: Know your strengths and weaknesses (he did not obviously display any great sense of discretion for an aspiring CEO as he recently publicly talked of corruption in business as also his moves to downsize, the morale at the company at a time when the industry was showing signs of recovery and growth were ill-timed)

Pai surely knows what role suits him best. That is why he has chosen to be happy to “ask a few questions” (as a shareholder at Infosys) rather than being asked those difficult questions. After all it boils down to choices you make in life. It may or may not pay to say “no” but a “no” at times would ensure you the job of being neither tired nor retired but simply happy.

(The views expressed by the author in the blog are his/her own)