Reflections on Premji''s lessons in life
10 April 2004
In the early 1980s, I worked for Wipro at its Amalner plant, which manufactured vanaspati. That was the time when Azim Premji had come back from the US and was in the initial stages of defining Wipro's values and putting them into practice. As I went down the list of Premji's lessons, little instances came to mind, which were, perhaps, reflective of those learning moments.
Azim Premji is today the icon for integrity and integrity could be the "strength" he talks about in lesson 1 (build on your strengths). He certainly leveraged this strength well — but I can tell you it needs courage of conviction.
Those were the days when the vanaspati business was all about "on" (euphemism for black!) money. At the Amalner plant, we produced 7,000 tins of vanaspati per day and the going rate in those days was around Rs 15 a tin. Annually, that would have meant about Rs 4 crore of "on" money then and, at current money values, about Rs 50 crore per year. But Premji insisted on sticking to the Wipro value of integrity and, much against "practical" advice, Wipro refused to collect that money.
I have subsequently worked for companies which loudly touted their values of integrity but when it came to the crunch — and cash! — rationalisations, which come easy in a soft state like India, made way for an obvious breach of the stated value system. The lesson I learnt was that it is better not to talk about integrity if you can not stick to it. By some perverse logic, the employees trust you more if you shut up!