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SAP's Sikka Is the New CEO of Infosys, but It's Not the Job He Wanted

The man behind SAP's HANA database product had wanted to be CEO of the German software giant.


You may remember that, last month, the German software giant SAP stirred up the ranks of its executive board when Vishal Sikka, the executive most known for the launch of the company’s HANA database, unexpectedly departed.

Now we know the conclusion of the story. Late Wednesday, Infosys, the India-based IT-outsourcing firm, named Sikka as its new CEO. He’s the first outsider to run the massive IT services company, which has 160,000 employees and operations in 30 countries. Worth $8.2 billion, India’s second-largest IT services firm competes with Tata Consultancy (about $13 billion in annual revenue) and Wipro (about $7 billion).

But running Infosys is apparently not the job Sikka really wanted. Sources familiar with the situation at SAP tell Re/code that Sikka had wanted either to be co-CEO with Bill McDermott, the American executive who was just promoted to sole CEO following the retirement of Jim Hagemann Snabe, or on a path to being sole CEO himself.

When what he wanted didn’t materialize, Sikka resigned from SAP. That allowed McDermott to appoint two allies, Rob Enslin and Bernd Leukert, to SAP’s executive board. (Not to be confused with a what U.S. companies call the board of directors — at SAP, that’s the Supervisory Board.)

Sikka, who had been the executive board member responsible for products and innovation, had been generally regarded as a visionary and as the person who got SAP’s cloud database product HANA out the door. HANA now accounts for about $1 billion a year in annual revenue. And while SAP likes to crow that it’s is the fastest-growing enterprise-software product in the history of the universe, the company is still struggling to meet its goal of hitting 2 billion euro (about $2.8 billion) in annual cloud revenue by 2015.

As one source put it, Sikka had expected to be given the co-CEO slot by co-founder and Chairman Hasso Plattner — the company’s real power broker — as a reward for all his hard work. While revered for his smarts and drive on the HANA project, as another source put it, Sikka wasn’t seen as a “people leader.”

There has been consistent chatter about an internal power struggle at SAP for some time. A story in the German business magazine DAS-E3 portrayed Sikka as the loser in a complicated political battle for Plattner’s favor. On his personal blog, Sikka called that story the “fabrications of a gossip-monger.”

An SAP spokeswoman stuck to the original company line, saying that Sikka left the company “for personal reasons.” A spokeswoman for Infosys had no comment.

SAP has undergone several management shifts in the last several months. Aside from the shuffling of the executive board, the company fired Shawn Price, a senior executive in its cloud business, last month.

Shares of Infosys fell nearly two percent on Thursday after news of Sikka’s appointment was announced. The shares recovered a bit on Friday.

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