New Infosys Chairman Sees U.S. Economic Pain As �Win-Win'

Don Tennant

Anyone who was counting on the business ethics at Infosys to change with the recent leadership reshuffle, which saw career banker KV Kamath assume the position of company chairman, had better lower his expectations. Kamath's view is that the global economic crisis that's decimating families in the United States by the thousands is a 'win-win' as far as Infosys is concerned.

India's Economic Times reported last week that Kamath addressed the economic turmoil in Europe and in the United States, the latter being the market that Infosys depends on for roughly two-thirds of its revenue. Here's an excerpt:

Infosys Chairman KV Kamath on Thursday said that turbulence in global markets is likely to provide a "win-win opportunity" for Indian IT players, since clients would be looking more at operational efficiency and productivity gains.

"The reason is that turbulence in our customer markets would mean our customers would seek even greater operational efficiency and productivity gains," Kamath told media in an interview.

"If Indian knowledge sector players can prove that they can partner in these areas, and deliver value, a win-win opportunity develops. I am reasonably sure this is going to happen," he said.

The idea is that struggling U.S. companies need to improve efficiency and productivity to survive, and Infosys and other Indian IT companies can help make that happen, so it's a win-win for companies in India and the United States. That seems innocuous enough on the surface, but no matter how you slice it, what Kamath is saying is that economic turmoil in the United States stands to benefit Infosys. I'm confident that Kamath doesn't delight in the problems our country is facing, but I find it troubling that economic turmoil in the United States to him is a mechanism to deliver potential clients that would increase his bottom line.

Why is there no apparent grasp of the immense hardship that underlies the turmoil that's presenting him with this 'opportunity?' What about the thousands upon thousands of people whose homes have been foreclosed, whose savings are depleted, and who are losing hope of ever finding work again? How can an economic situation that's causing all that pain and suffering be characterized as a potential 'win' for anybody, considering the human toll it's taking?

Perhaps the answer lies in Kamath's background. I mentioned that he's a career banker. In fact, from 1996 to 2009, he was managing director and CEO of ICICI Bank, the largest private bank in India. To this day, he serves as non-executive chairman of the bank. As it turns out, ICICI Bank isn't known for caring a great deal about people's lives. Consider the following:

  • In 2007, harassment by ICICI Bank recovery agents reportedly led to the suicide of a customer, which compelled ICICI Bank to financially compensate the man's family.
  • ICICI Bank recovery agents in 2007 reportedly beat a customer who was delinquent on his car loan payments.
  • Four ICICI Bank recovery agents were arrested in 2007 after beating a man who later died.
  • In 2006, the Delhi High Court initiated an inquiry into the suicide of a man who had been abused by employees of ICICI Bank.
  • A scientist with the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology in 2007 was allegedly tortured by ICICI Bank recovery agents after he defaulted on a loan.

All of that happened under Kamath's watch, when he was managing director and CEO of ICICI Bank. What are we to make of ICICI Bank's corporate culture and business ethics in the wake of those atrocities? Now that Kamath is the chairman of Infosys, how warm and fuzzy should Infosys' U.S. clients feel about the ethics of a company whose chairman came from that atrocious environment, and who now sees the economic problems that are costing people in this country their jobs, their homes and their savings as a potential 'win-win?'

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