iGate’s Failures in Risk Management

phaneeshiGate fired its CEO Phaneesh Murthy for sexual misconduct after Araceli Roiz; an American employee accused him of sexual harassment. As per media reports she has claimed that the relationship started soon after she joined the organization in 2010 and is pregnant with his child.

Mr Phaneesh Murthy has the dubious honor of facing two similar charges while working as a senior manager in Infosys in 2002. Reka Maximovitch and Jennifer Griffith had both received huge out of court settlements previously. Now he faces the similar charges from Araceli Roiz. Mr Murthy has acknowledged that he had sexual relationships with Ms Roiz. However, it was with her consent. He has alleged he is being defamed and this is an attempt at extortion.

With the limited information available in the media, one cannot comment on the details of the personal relationship.

However, this disaster teaches a few lessons. iGate could have prevented this reputation damage and legal risks if it would have taken a few timely steps.  iGate board and senior managers failed to take due care of the following risks.

1.     Pre-employment Background Screening

Mr Murthy has an excellent academic and professional achievement record. He was credited for taking Infosys turnover from $ 2 million to $ 700 million. However, when he was hired by iGate in 2003 he was in the news for all the wrong reasons. The sexual harassment cases were all over the media.

iGate needed a CEO who could deliver results. My guess is the board looked the other way or considered Mr Murthy’s infidelities small or insignificant. However, if a junior or middle manager had the same reputation, his career would have been over. No organization would have hired him.

Hence, when generally senior managers background screening is more stringent  than junior or middle managers, iGate board took the opposite stance.  It appears that the same yardstick isn’t being applied for background screening or it is being given lip service.

2.     Failure to Monitor & Control CEO Behavioural Risks

iGate board and senior managers chose to ignore the CEO behavior  As per media reports, the relationship was known to the staff. However, it appears no action was taken to guide or coach Mr Murthy.

Read these statements of Mr Murthy from prior interviews at the time of Patni takeover.

The National – “Everyone says that M&As are about ego. I’ve been a salesperson for 10 years. For every 100 doors that you knock on, 98 get shut in your face. That has knocked away most of my ego. I have two teenage boys who whip my butt in every game. They have gone from wanting to be on my team to not wanting to be on the loser’s team. Because of that, I have no ego left.”

Livemint – “Not at all. I am basically a conservative, middle-class south Indian Brahmin. As it is, we don’t like debt, and I am very uncomfortable with a $700 million (around Rs 3,180 crore) debt.”

Ms Araceli Roiz is 31 years old and Mr Phaneesh Murthy is 53 years old. In conservative South-Indian Brahmin families “divorce” is taboo. With two teen aged boys at home, he started an affair, if Mr Roiz version is true, when she was in her late twenties.

From a psychological perspective, it is a classic case of a talented man unable to deal with his own fallibility and mortality. Mr Murthy is a competitive man and the yearly success in his career may have made him feel invincible and powerful.  He is raised on Indian middle class values that look down on promiscuous behavior  He competes with his own children in games. He was heading an Indian IT organization where the average age of employees is 25-26 years. Does it look like he was suffering from mid-life crises?

The board members and other senior managers could have identified the emotional baggage he was carrying around and addressed the issue. The question arises, when the board knew about his weakness and character problem, was he provided any coaching or mentoring? Or did the board take the view, that as long as he is delivering the numbers, everything will be tolerated.

3.     Lack of attention to work culture

The board and management knew that Mr Murthy had a marked reputation in respect to female employees. Secondly, it appears that is relationship with Ms Roiz was an open secret. From his own words, it doesn’t seem that he took sexual harassment or company policies seriously. In the interview, he stated:

“It was a personal relationship. The company policy states that any two employees having a relationship have to inform the superiors. It is a small note in an employee handbook. I did inform the company about the relationship. Though it was a question of timing from my side as I disclosed this only a few weeks ago, only after the relationship was over.”

According to him, “it is a small note” in the company handbook.  He didn’t believe in walking the talk in personal ethics or corporate code of conduct. Hence, the question arises, what attention iGate paid to maintain the corporate culture.

With previous cases of sexual harassment against the CEO and an on-going affair, did iGate management ensure that the sexual harassment policies were implemented in spirit? If a woman, as per Roiz’s claim, was forced into a sexual relationship by the CEO, what effect did it have on other female employees and work culture? Did it not set the stage for the hostile work culture where women would feel insecure to report cases of sexual harassment? Let us say, another female employee was harassed by a male senior manager, what options does she have when she knows that the CEO is doing something similar? How seriously was sexually offensive behavior taken by the management?

 The organizations pay a heavy price in respect to sexually harassing culture. The direct costs are of course legal penalties and cases, however, the indirect costs are absenteeism, disengagement, high turnover and lower productivity. The iGate management appears to have ignored these aspects while hiring Mr Murthy and during his tenure.

4.     Ineffective Crises Management

iGate public relations team issued the statement – “The investigation, which is on-going, has reached the finding that Murthy’s failure to report this relationship violated iGATE’s policy, as well as Murthy’s employment contract. The investigation has not uncovered any violation of iGATE’s harassment policy.”

It gave information on the interim CEO and search for the new CEO, to rest fears of the investors.

This appears more of an attempt to limit legal risks. According to US laws the company is responsible for sexual misconduct by its employees. Subsequent to the above news, the company has not made any statement or explanation on what it did to prevent such incidents.

According to media reports, the Indian employees received an explanation from the senior managers on the incident and were instructed not to talk to people outside and within the organization. An instruction not to communicate with the media or put comments in social media is sound. However, not to communicate with fellow employees sounds like an attempt to silence. Can management stop the discussion outside office hours between the employees?

In such instances, various stakeholder expectations need to be addressed. It is a sensitive issue that gets the attention of public, bloggers, activists, women lobbies etc. Even the employees psychological stress levels increase and they need to be managed. However, from the information available in the media, there isn’t much effort being done to manage the crises.

Closing Thoughts

Sexual harassment cases cause huge reputation damage and legal risks. I am not sure whether after Mr Murthy’s previous cases, iGate got proper insurance coverage for directors and senior manager liabilities. Implementing sexual harassment policies and holding everyone to high standards of conduct is something organizations need to concentrate on. The issue was taken lightly previously, but now women workforce is increasing and so are the cases of harassment. Unless companies wish to have their name tarnished, they need to take the right steps.

References:

  1. Read more: http://www.thenational.ae/business/technology/rise-and-fall-and-rise-again-of-it-star-phaneesh-murthy#ixzz2UBKIGikk
  2. http://www.financialexpress.com/news/phaneesh-murthy-i-will-fight-sexual-harassment-charges-vigorously/1118857/1
  3. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/tech/careers/job-trends/Murthy-scandal-iGate-staff-gets-social-media-code/articleshow/20222185.cms
Advertisements