Rao, an electrical engineer from Bangalore University, joined Infosys in 1986 on a salary of Rs 1,500. A friendly banter with his neighbour Bala Kuthiyar, who then worked at Infosys, inspired Rao to join the firm.
Infosys co-founders NR Narayana Murthy and NS Raghavan interviewed him for the job. He became part of the team that set up an offshore delivery centre for GE – which was then the biggest IT outsourcer in the world – and won a big contract from Reebok France to set up their information management system.
The defining moment of his career was as the unit head of retail, CPG and logistics (RCL), the first industry vertical to be formed in Infosys. That was in 2002. Rao won contracts from Tesco, Walmart, Nordstrom and GAP, each of which grew in size and scope over time.
One of Rao’s former colleagues, who watched him grow in the firm, describes his leadership style as a “classical” one, helping smoothen out transitions, including CEO transitions. “Extraordinary content with less form,” he says, indicating Rao worked without making a song and dance of his successes. He was always the quiet, dependable guy.
Bhanumurthy, like Rao, started in the retail and CPG vertical. An alumnus of IIM Ahmedabad, Bhanumurthy set up the RCTG (retail, CPG, transportation and government) unit for Wipro and brought in key clients like Nike and Best Buy.
It’s not clear whether the COO roles will continue after Rao and Bhanumurthy retire, and, if they do, what would be the essence of those roles. In Wipro CEO Thierry Delaporte’s organisational overhaul, there’s no COO role spelt out.
Instead, Wipro’s two presidents oversee delivery – Rajan Kohli who leads the integrated digital, engineering & application services, and Nagendra Bandaru, who leads cloud infrastructure, digital operations, and risk & enterprise cyber security services.
At Infosys, US-based Ravi Kumar has been president and deputy COO for three years now. He leads the global services organisation and is accelerating Infosys’ localisation strategy in the US. He also oversees Infosys BPM as chairman.
Bhanumurthy has been essentially playing the role of a chief delivery officer, combining the people supply chain, onboarding, bench management, delivery architecture and execution. Rao does that, but is also involved in large deals and location strategy. There is no single prototype for the COO’s role in the IT services landscape yet.
Vikash Jain, managing director and partner who leads the technology, media and telecom practice at BCG (Boston Consulting Group) India, said, “We will see a far more heterogeneous business and operating model in the services business than the homogenous industrialised operating model. The complexity and number of variables that needs to be dealt with will go up significantly.”
At the crux of this, he said, will be a hybrid delivery model that brings a diverse set of capabilities and perspectives that will increasingly be an expectation from clients.
Paul Gottsegen, president of ISG Research and Client Experience, said the lessons learned during the pandemic in virtual delivery will help shape a more efficient delivery capability, “allowing for more specialised expertise to be delivered in ways that previously were exclusive to on-site teams.”