BENGALURU: Cognizant is being called the new CEO factory. Senior executives leaving the company following new CEO Brian Humphries’ restructuring initiative are finding top roles in others, despite the difficulties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Most are being hired by companies much smaller than Cognizant, perhaps to take advantage of their experience in scaling up. All of these executives had spent many years in Cognizant, and were part of the period when the company outgrew every one of its peers.
Gajen Kandiah, who was president of Cognizant’s over $2-billion digital business, is now the CEO of Hitachi Vantara, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the $80-billion Japanese conglomerate Hitachi. The appointment happened last month. Kandiah was with Cognizant for 16 years. Hitachi Vantara delivers data infrastructure, governance and cloud-based products, digital solutions and professional and managed services that help organisations unlock the value of their data. It has 11,000 employees.
Nirav Patel, who was the global head of Cognizant communications, media and technology business responsible for an over $2-billion business, has become the president and CEO of Bristlecone, a Mahindra Group company that specialises in supply chain consulting and system integration business. US-based Bristlecone employs over 1,800 consultants. Patel had spent 20 years in Cognizant doing many global roles spanning sales, delivery, business strategy and operations.
Former Cognizant EVP Kaushik Bhaumik, who was responsible for the $3-billion healthcare business with over 40,000 people, has become the co-founder and CEO of Glide Health, a venture that applies AI/ML to address challenges in healthcare. He was in Cognizant for 16 years.
Karthik Krishnamurthy, who was global head of markets in Cognizant’s digital business, has become the CEO of talent solutions provider Collabera. Collabera employs 16,000 people and works with 70% of the Fortune 500 companies. Krishnamurthy was with Cognizant for 18 years.
Venkat Krishnaswamy, former vice-chairman of Cognizant’s healthcare and life sciences business, and who was in the company for over 16 years, was recently appointed as the chairman of BPM firm Firstsource Healthcare’s advisory board.
A partner in a top-tier executive search firm noted that these first-generation IT services talent come from a leadership pedigree focused on the bulking up game. They may not be able to thrive in today’s environment of disruption. “They may not get a seat at the table in driving high-end consulting conversations. However, the market still has an appetite to hire leaders with scale-up skills in mid-sized assets,” he said.
The last one year has been an eventful one with Accenture, IBM and Capgemini having gone through CEO transitions. More recently, Wipro saw a new CEO at the helm. “But the big question to ask is how many boards have opted to evaluate leaders coming out of the Indian IT services ecosystem?” he asked.
Rod Bourgeois, head of research in DeepDive Equity Research, said that prior to 2016, Cognizant enjoyed a long-standing position as the envied growth story in the services industry, and it was a darling stock among investors. “As a result, in the market for management talent, Cognizant staff tend to benefit from the company’s historical reputation as a growth leader,” he said.