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How-I-Saved-the-Day
Phaneesh Murthy
Thursday, June 1, 2006
Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it,” said Michael Jordan, the legendary basketball player.

A memorable saying to recall when faced with a significant business challenge; like the one I encountered in 1995, while at Infosys.

At that time, GE was Infosys’ largest customer, contributing approximately 38 percent to the company’s revenues. It was the key growth period for the company. A phase when the kind of projects being executed was leading to the maturity of the organization, and skills and capabilities were being enhanced.

The GE contract was coming up for renewal. However, as the terms of renewal were not mutually agreeable, Infosys was certain to loose the GE account in the next 6 to 9 months.

The consequence of this eventuality looked disastrous. Not only would the top line take a big hit, it would also mean a large bench and half vacant buildings in the new 5 acre campus the company was moving into. For me it was a whammy, as I had just taken over as the Head of Sales.

What I did that year would determine how Infosys would fare immediately and in the future years to come.

I realized that proactive management, focus on the right issues, and an unambiguous internal communication was the key to circumvent the crisis.

Since a 38 percent revenue-contributing customer can threaten the survivability of the company, I proactively called on all our customers, informed them of our decision to conclude our relationship with GE, and sought their support.

Thankfully, their response was positive. They agreed to give us more work and provide reference. What helped was proactive communication. It also taught me an important lesson, that, however bad the news, customers would rather hear it from you.

While managing the severance was a challenging task, more pressing was the urgent need to bring in at least half a dozen new clients of significant size capable of absorbing people as they started rolling off from GE projects. As this called for a strong focus, I did two things. To begin with, I sharpened our service offerings and message, and got on the road to meet numerous prospects.

I also priced deals aggressively. This was really important as new customers that came in became the core set, responsible for fueling the growth for the future, besides picking up resources as they came about.

In that challenging year, keeping calm and maintaining balance was the key. Had I expressed fear or exhibited concern, the organization might have lost heart.

The need of the hour was to create a strong and a competitive organization. To do that, I had to keep the sales team focused, many of whom had given up good jobs and promising careers in India to relocate to the U.S., Europe and Japan. Had they smelt any sense of a serious problem, it would have resulted in turmoil.

Parallely, the situation demanded constant and repeat communication with the team in India so as to prevent them from pressing the panic button. A learning experience that has not been lost on me even now. Most often, when faced with gloom or crisis, it is very tempting to suppress the bad news and refrain from communicating it. This leads to people fearing the worst. The golden rule therefore is – communicate, communicate, and communicate.
Not only did Infosys sail successfully through without GE, it also gained on the margins front, as new customers came in with higher price for sharper-defined service offerings.

Phaneesh Murthy is the CEO, iGATE Global Solutions.
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