The first crop of technology leaders, who joined the firm in 1980, are currently putting together their memories of bringing many technological firsts to Wipro and to India.
It was decided last year that the book would contain the remembrances of the first crop of veterans who spearheaded technology initiatives at Wipro, Sridhar Mitta, the company’s first chief technology officer and president of technology divisions at Wipro told ET. Mitta is currently founder of NextWealth Entrepreneurs.
“There were three reasons for Wipro to thrive. Even though it was a small company and Premji was not very well known at the time and other companies had more resources and branding, he articulated the value systems that Wipro was to follow and personally led people to follow them,” said Mitta. “Ethical behaviour is a religion. He would say there is black and white, no grey.”
Wipro declined to comment for the story. The company turns 75 on December 29.
Founded by MH Hasham Premji in 1945 as Western India Vegetable Products Ltd manufacturing vanaspati in Amalner, a town in Jalgaon district of Maharashtra, Wipro has emerged as one of India’s most respected enterprises spanning across IT, consumer care, infrastructure engineering and automation, with a presence in over 100 countries. Premji has steered the company since 1966 when he dropped out of Stanford at the age of 21 to return after his father’s death to take over the reins.
Premji diversified the business and focussed on building a technology venture, both hardware and software. The latter would thrive as the former dwindled.
The software services business, which has been seeking to recover lost ground in recent years, generated $8.3 billion in annual revenue last year. His elder son Rishad Premji is now at the helm.
Wipro Enterprises, the privately held company that houses the consumer goods, infrastructure engineering and medical devices businesses, posted revenue of $2 billion. Premji continues to chair the board of Wipro-GE Healthcare.
Premji is also India’s most generous billionaire, having pledged over 67% of Wipro shares, valued in March 2019 at $21 billion (₹1.45 lakh crore) to Azim Premji foundation.
Premji, in his last annual general meeting of Wipro as chairman in July 2019, said the 75th year for the company was an “important milestone”.
“We take great pride in how Wipro is an exemplar of a successful, ethical and a socially responsible organization. If we look back at the Wipro journey in the last seven decades, from a small vegetable oil company to a leading information technology company that we are today, we have evolved by constantly re-inventing ourselves and creating newer opportunities,” he had said.
M Seethapathy Rao, who was the CEO of Wipro Fluid Power, the company’s first diversification outside Vanaspati by setting up a hydraulics and pneumatics unit in Bengaluru in 1975, says the move helped Premji expand into other technology segments in the years ahead.
“Premji was a principled person. Vanaspati was a commodity business, and it was controlled by the government. He wanted to explore newer businesses where he could innovate and achieve better,” said Rao, who now runs Hycom Engineering, a fluid power company that supplies to Wipro. “He was initially reluctant to set up the company in Bengaluru, where you had the best precision engineering talent and business. He relented and eventually made Bengaluru his home.”
Rao, who swears by Wipro’s corporate integrity, says Premji’s “hero is Mahatma Gandhi”.