Change of guard at Wipro: Azim Premji passes on baton to son

Wipro founder Azim Premji, would take a long time in deciding upon people to run things. But when he did, he backed them to the hilt

Wipro founder-chairman Azim Premji says he would like to spend more time in philanthropic activities  
Wipro founder-chairman Azim Premji says he would like to spend more time in philanthropic activities

KV Lakshmana

Those who know Wipro Ltd founder and executive chairman Azim Premji are at time exasperated with the slowness of his decision making. But the string of successes that he notched up from the time he started his tiny vegetable oil business to current day status a global IT czar only go to prove that his decisions were thorough and well-thought out, ones that minimised the negatives.

None exemplifies this better than the one and half years Azim Premji took to finalise the Spectramind acquisition.

Those in the know of things then speak of the times they had rounds and rounds of endless discussions and number crunching hours they spent, in Mumbai offices and in Bangalore’s Cubbon Park morning walk – reviewing the pros and cons of the acquisition of the BPO services firm.

Slowness in decision making need not always be looked down upon and this example ought to be a classic lesson for the forever-in-a-hurry younger managers rolling out of management schools, is how one of the persons privy to some of the information of the acquisition said.

It was Azim Premji’s way of doing things, with great attention to detail, and his thoroughness that prevented him from taking bad decisions. Which is why he took a long time in deciding upon people to run things. But when he did, he backed them to the hilt and gave them operational freedom, his only condition that everyone conform to the highest of corporate governance norms.

Even the decision to make his son his successor was in the making for several years. He brought Rishad Premji to the strategy department, from where Rishad observed the functioning of the company and began intervening at the strategy framing level. It is that high table in the company that gave him a bird’s eye view of the operations.

But by bringing him from sideways instead of putting him on top of senior management personnel, Azim Premji ensured that there were no ruffled feathers and allowed son Rishad to learn the ropes, slowly but surely. Rishad was brought into the company in 2007.

From being an observer to strategizing and now about to perch at a position to be responsible for the profit and losses of the company as the executive chairman from July 1, taking over from his father, Rishad now has a plan in place to propel the firm to greater heights.

The soft-spoken, Harvard-educated, 42-year-old Rishad, Chief Strategy Office, will take over as the company Executive Chairman for a five-year term. Wipro Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director, Abidali Neemuchwala, has been re-designated as MD & CEO.

“Rishad’s understanding of the global technology industry, strong strategic orientation and diverse leadership experience make him the right person to guide Wipro. He is also best positioned to represent the interests and fundamental social purpose of the largest shareholder of Wipro,” Azim Premji said in an open letter to Wipro employee

Rishad, he said, has been an integral part of the leadership team since 2007 and has an intimate understanding of the company, from operations to strategy.

Azim Premji will, however, continue as a non-executive director and founder-chairman as also be the Chairman of Wipro Enterprises Ltd and continue to chair the board of Wipro-GE Healthcare.

Here is the full text of the letter:

Dear Wiproites,

I am very pleased to announce that Rishad Premji will take over as the Executive Chairman of Wipro Limited with effect from July 31, 2019.

Rishad brings to this role new ways of thinking, experience, and competence that will lead Wipro to greater heights. He has been an integral part of the leadership team since 2007, most recently as Chief Strategy Officer, and has an intimate understanding of our company -– from operations to strategy.

He has a deep knowledge of the global technology industry and was until recently the Chairman of the trade body NASSCOM, where he helped chart the course of India's $170 billion software industry in this era of digital transformation.

His diverse and cross-industry experiences give him the benefit of a broad view of global business. He is firmly rooted in the values that are the bedrock of the company -- his commitment to the spirit of Wipro is absolute.

Rishad will continue to serve on the Board of the Azim Premji Foundation, the philanthropic organisation, which now owns 67 per cent of the economic interest of Wipro Limited. Thus, in his new role, he will also represent the largest stakeholder of Wipro.

I am also pleased to announce that Abidali Neemuchwala will be the Managing Director of Wipro Limited from July 31, 2019, while continuing to be the Chief Executive Officer.

I have full confidence in Abid to lead our great company. Rishad and Abid make an excellent leadership team and I think this will be a great strength for Wipro.

I will continue to serve on the Board of Wipro Limited while dedicating most of my time and energy to the philanthropic efforts of the Foundation.

I will remain the Chairman of Wipro Enterprises Limited which includes our consumer care and infrastructure engineering businesses, and the Wipro-GE Healthcare joint venture, with total revenues of approximately USD 2 billion. I will also continue to chair the Board of Wipro-GE Healthcare.

Leading Wipro from 1966 till now has been the greatest privilege of my life. It has been an extraordinary journey –- growing from being a small vegetable oil company to the diverse global business that we are today.

It is the deep commitment and hard work of Wiproites across generations that has helped shape the organisation of today.

Wipro is an exemplar of a successful, ethical and socially responsible organisation. I want to thank all of you as well as all my colleagues from the past for their contribution and dedication.

Wipro will continually transform to scale new heights as the world changes while remaining firmly committed to its values. Rishad and Abid will lead this transformation along with all of you. I am confident that the future of Wipro will far outshine anything that we have done before.

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