However, this reticent, legendary businessman is famous for
leading a simple lifestyle. He always flies economy, avoids
staying in 5-star hotels, and prefers clothes, watches and
cars that are made in India. He likes to talk about his corporation
and the emerging opportunities for Indian business rather
than about himself. Premji has consistently advocated the
use of IT at all levels of society.
Born in Mumbai on 24 July 1945, his beginnings were very simple.
At 21, Premji was forced to leave his engineering studies
at Stanford University in the US to take over the family business
of vegetable oils due to the unexpected passing away of his
father in 1966. After a gap of over 30 years, Premji finally
managed to take time off from his rapidly expanding business
to earn his degree in electrical engineering from Stanford.
Premji started off in Wipro with a simple vision to
build an organisation on a foundation of values. Under his
leadership Wipro ventured into a continuous phase of expansion
and diversification with consolidation. In 1975, before venturing
into IT, the company diversified from vegetable oils to hydraulic
cylinders and fluid power components and its factory at Amalner
was used for production of soaps, toiletries, and baby care
products. Wipro also entered the lighting products market
and started manufacturing light bulbs with General Electric.
But Premji's ambitions lay elsewhere.
Entry in to IT
The company entered the personal computer market in 1977,
moving in to fill the void by the withdrawal of IBM in 1977.
Wipro started manufacturing computer hardware, later moving
in to software development under a special license from Sentinel,
e-Security Inc's security information management and compliance
monitoring solution. The company began selling and assembling
products made by such well-known companies as Canon, Epson,
Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems.
As a result, the $1.5-million company in hydrogenated cooking
fats grew within a few years to a $1.76-billion diversified,
integrated IT and ITeS corporation. The company offers software
solutions, IT consulting, software design, and solutions,
business process outsourcing services, and research and development
services in areas of hardware. With offices in 45 countries,
the company is the fourth largest in the world in terms of
market capitalisation in IT services
Premji is a workaholic and according to him, in a competitive
environment, work is the only way to success and survival.
An exacting taskmaster, he expects competence from his people
and though he is forgiving about genuine errors of judgment,
he simply does not tolerate obfuscation or deception.
Premji firmly believes that ordinary people are capable of
extraordinary things. He believes that the key to this is
creating highly charged teams. He takes a personal interest
in developing teams and leaders. He invests significant time
as a faculty in Wipro's leadership development programmes.
He also makes it a point to deal directly with customers as
much as possible.
Premji strongly believes in delivering 'value to the customer'
through world-class quality processes. This belief has driven
Wipro's pioneering efforts in quality practice adoption.
For instance, Wipro is the first software service company
in the world to be assessed at SEI CMM level 5 the
highest maturity level for any software process. The company
earned this certification in June 1999. It is also the world's
first organisation to achieve PCMM Level 5 (people capability
As the pioneers of Six Sigma in India, Wipro has already put
in around five years into process improvement through Six
Sigma. A measure of quality, Six Sigma is a disciplined, data-driven
approach and methodology for eliminating defects (driving
towards six standard deviations between the mean and the nearest
specification limit) in any process from manufacturing
to transactional and from product to service.
Premji's adherence to integrity is legendary and he is known
to be a stickler for it. He has consistently refused to offer
bribes to get things done; his oils business had to wait for
18 months to get an electrical substation for the vegetable
manufacturing unit because he refused to give in to demands
for bribes. For 20 months the unit was run on captive power
generation, at an unbelievably high cost to the company. But
Premji remained steadfast, preferring the extra financial
liability to breaking his strict code of adherence to values.
Over the years Premji has received several honours and accolades,
which he believes are in recognition for the efforts of each
person who has contributed to Wipro, rather than any recognition
for himself personally.
In 2000 he was voted among the "20 most powerful men
in the world" by Asia Week. He was also ranked
among the "50 richest people in the world" from
2001 to 2003 according to Forbes. Financial Times
included him in the list of "top 25 billionaires who
have done most to bring about significant and lasting social,
political or cultural changes". In April 2004, he was
rated "among the 100 most influential people in the world"
by Time magazine and Business Week (October
2003) featured him on its cover with the sobriquet "India's
The Indian Institute of Technology-Roorkee, and the Manipal
Academy of Higher Education have both conferred honorary doctorates
on him. He is also a member of the prime minister's advisory
committee for IT in India. In 2005 the government of India
honoured him with the Padma Bhushan, one of the highest civilian
awards in the country.
Philanthropy has been integral to Premji's vision of regenerating
India. In the year 2001, Premji established Azim Premji Foundation,
a non-profit organisation with the vision to influence the
lives of millions of children in India by providing them with
quality education. The foundation works closely with the state
governments of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh
among others, and its programmes cover over 5,000 rural schools.
Premji has personally contributed the financial resources
to this foundation. The programmes of the Azim Premji Foundation
currently engage 1.8 million children under its various programmes.
One of his favourite recreational activities is hiking. He
leads a quiet life with his wife Yasmin, who has worked for
Inside Outside magazine in an editorial capacity, and
their two sons in a simple, but elegant villa in Bangalore.
The elder son, Rishad, works for GE in the US and the younger
one, Tariq, is the co-founder of a dotcom venture in Bangalore.
Compiled by Tanmoy Mitra