For a company that has long boasted that it sets an example for the rest of us about transparency, Infosys Technologies sure appears to be anything but transparent. And I'm clearly not the only one who's starting to notice.
"In terms of transparency and corporate governance, I don't want to say we are the best in the world but we are certainly one of the best," Infosys Co-founder and Chairman Narayana Murthy told Forbes.com in 2002. Among his company's guiding precepts, Murthy added: "The softest pillow is a clear conscience," and "When in doubt, disclose."
Hold that thought, and consider that earlier this month, Patrick Thibodeau of Computerworld reported that a survey by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) found that only 10 percent of the U.S.-based employees of Indian IT service providers are U.S. citizens. Here's an excerpt from the Computerworld story:
The IT and [Business Process Outsourcing] industries "seem to exhibit less dependence on the U.S. workforce," the CII report said. "This may be explained by a skills shortage in the U.S., [and by] the availability of a highly qualified Indian workforce that dominates the IT and BPO sector not only [in] the U.S. but also globally."
Last October, Thibodeau reported that Infosys had planned to hire 1,000 U.S. workers in the United States, where the company receives about two-thirds of its global revenue. The report added:
The company has somewhere in the range of 14,000 to 15,000 workers in the U.S., but it does not break out the number of workers in this total by either citizens and permanent residents or those on a temporary work visa. Infosys is one of the largest users of H-1B visas.
It struck me as odd that Infosys wouldn't say what percentage of its U.S.-based workers are U.S. citizens, so I contacted the company to pursue the matter. I had been told by an Infosys spokesperson last month that the company has roughly 12,000 employees in the United States (I don't know what accounts for the discrepancy between that number and the numbers Thibodeau reported in October), so I emailed him on Monday morning. I asked him what percentage of those employees are U.S. citizens, and whether the company is making any attempt to increase that percentage. After having that and repeated follow-up requests ignored for a couple of days, I finally reached a different Infosys spokesperson on her cell phone. She told me that Infosys declined to disclose the information I had asked for.
One can only surmise, then, that Infosys doesn't want us to know what percentage of its workers in the United States are U.S. citizens. Assuming the number is somewhere in the ballpark of the 10 percent figure that the CII survey found for Indian IT service providers in general, we're left to ask why the percentage is so low, especially given the fact that around two-thirds of Infosys' revenue comes from the United States. Is it because the needed skills are lacking in the U.S. work force, as CII suggested?
I'm not so sure. In fact, I can't help but wonder whether the real reason has to do more with the concern that U.S. citizens are less inclined to go along with the company's shenanigans, like the visa and tax fraud that Infosys employee and whistleblower Jay Palmer is alleging in his lawsuit against the company.
In any case, the transparency issue is likely to get a lot more scrutiny in the months ahead. Perhaps we'll get some sense of how many Infosys employees share the views of one worker, who in his review of the company included in his list of negatives, "no transparency from senior managers."
Perhaps more of those senior managers, moreover, will open up and begin to speak out about the company's lack of transparency, the way former Chief of Human Resources and board member Mohandas Pai did earlier this week. Pai, who abruptly resigned from Infosys last week, raised the transparency issue in the context of the company's plans to appoint a new CEO.
My request to the board has been that when you choose a CEO, you have a very transparent process, and choose the best person for the job. In corporate India, the whole idea of CEO succession requires more transparency. I think it's very important for the boards in [India] to be more transparent when they look at changing CEOs.
Those remarks created a firestorm in India, compelling Pai to back away from them, as India's Economic Times reported:
Mohandas Pai, the outgoing Infosys director who lit a fire by criticising the selection of CEOs at the company a few days ago, tried to douse the flames on Tuesday by claiming that his comments were "general".
"I was asked what process would I like and I replied. I have not said anything about lack of transparency in the CEO process here. I support the process fully and believe it is transparent. I said that for me, and it is a personal opinion, experience is one of the criteria and the ability to perform in the future would be the major determinant," he told ET in an email exchange.
Make of all that what you will. For me, it's a disturbing link in a chain of concerns about whether Infosys is really as transparent as it claims to be. If the softest pillow is a clear conscience, I have to think that there are a lot of people at Infosys who will be trying to sleep on awfully hard pillows tonight.