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27/05/2011

Wipro, Microsoft or Patni, fatigue, pres…

Fri, May 27, 2011 | Updated 06.48AM IST

27 MAY, 2011, 06.41AM IST, PANKAJ MISHRA & SHRUTI SABHARWAL,ET BUREAU

Wipro, Microsoft or Patni, fatigue, pressure take toll on IT cos' CEOs
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BANGALORE: When joint CEO Girish S Paranjpe , 53, exited Wipro in January this year, he was certain he did not want another assignment in the IT industry. That explains the choice of his new job - to set up the international business for Silicon Valley start-up Bloom Energy. "It's more about where I will have more fun," he says. Since late 2010, five tech CEOs, all in their forties and fifties, have quit. None of them want another burdensome stint in a similar corner-office role in this industry, even though they have 5-10 years of active working life still left in them. Another six tech honchos, out of the 10 that ET polled for this story, say they would like to try something fresh, and not run another software company in their next assignments. Paranjpe's former Wipro colleague and a close friend, Sudip Banerjee , 51, who will step down from L&T Infotech's CEO post later this month, vows never to become a chief executive again. Pramod Bhasin , 59, Genpact CEO for seven years, relinquished executive leadership last week even though he was due to retire only at 65. "I could have continued if I wanted. But I want to do something in education or the government...so I quit," he says. Jeya Kumar, 56, quit as Patni CEO last month after it was acquired by smaller rival iGate. CEOs in 50s Most Vulnerable And Ravi Venkatesan resigned as Microsoft India chairman this February to take a break and write a book. At 47, he was the youngest of the recent tech CEO exits. You could call it the curse of the corner room. There are many reasons why these honchos are squirming in their hot seats. An unrelenting pressure to perform, fatigue, boredom and lack of opportunities for fresh learning are the most common reasons for early exits. CEOs in their fifties seem to be particularly vulnerable, even as a bunch of younger, more ambitious aspirants are rising through the ranks. The average age of tech CEOs has dropped from 55 to 51, says P Thiruvengadam, leader, Human Capital Advisory, Deloitte, who advises CEOs and senior leaders on strategy and succession planning. "Fatigue sets in fast in today's hyper-growth environment, compelling boards to look for fresh legs," adds K Sudarshan , managing partner, EMA Partners International, an executive search firm. "There's no reason why the age of tech CEOs cannot become 45-48 years soon," Thiruvengadam adds. "There is pressure to deliver results, to meet shareholder expectations, and work-life balance is a problem," says Banerjee who had to fly every Monday morning to Mumbai headquarters of L&T and get back to his Bangalore home over the weekend. "Along the way you have less time for yourself, less time for your family," he adds. He felt he could contribute a lot more to the company as an advisor.

The treadmill is unrelenting. You are either on it or off it. There is no slowing down. Investors and promoters in India's $70-billion technology sector won't settle for lesser returns, even though outsourcing customers are demanding more work at lower rates. Even a revenue growth of 25% is considered moderate. They are hungry for growth and sometimes, growth can be monotonous. "No matter which company you go to, it's more of the same in the industry - we're still talking about controlling attrition and utilisation rates," says Jeya Kumar. "What is missing is learning something fresh," he adds. "The role of a CEO in this industry is very operational - it's like being a pilot, co-pilot and steward, all at the same time," says the CEO at one of India's top tech firms. He requested anonymity. "IT-BPO is highly execution oriented and you can't take your eyes off the daily performance," agrees Sanjeev Agarwal, MD, Helion Venture Partners. "Fatigue sets in fast." Agarwal sold his BPO firm Daksh to IBM and quit the company in 2006. Other sectors can be different. "AM Naik at L&T can go on and on...he has multiple businesses to keep him occupied," says EMA Partners' Sudarshan. "In tech, the sameness creeps in." Over the years, the high pressure has been accompanied with high pay, and juicy stock options. That has increased economic freedom. "Most tech CEOs come from typical middle-class families. Once they have Rs 20-30 crore as assets, it's far more than their ambitions," adds Thiruvengadam. So what do they do after they quit? Experts say board positions, advisory roles, mentoring start-ups, and doing private equity deals are among the options. Former Microsoft head Venkatesan joined the Infosys board as an additional director in April. He is also writing a book on what makes MNCs successful in India. Perhaps he could write a chapter on how not to lose your CEO.

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