IT services major Wipro celebrated 75 years of service on December 29. To culminate this occasion the first batch of tech leaders, who joined Wipro in 1980, have pieced together their memories of introducing many technological firsts to the company and to India.
"75 years ago today, on Dec 29, 1945, my grandfather MH Premji registered a co. called Western India Vegetable Products Ltd. Today, we unveil the story of its making into Wipro, a global IT co. For 53 of those 75 yrs, Wipro was led by my father. #TheStoryofWipro #75YearsofWipro," Azim Premji's son Rishad Premji said in his Twitter post. "That's why The Story of Wipro is also the Story of Azim Premji. From a vanaspati Mfr to a diversified global business, built on the bedrock of solid values. I'm proud to carry forward this legacy. The Story of Wipro, to be published by Westland Business, to release soon," he added.
And talking about his father Rishad Premji also said, "My father, Azim Premji took over a small vanaspati biz at 21 & over 53 years grew it into a diversified, global co. Despite all he’s achieved, he hasn’t changed at all. I’ve learnt from him to stay grounded and to never let things go to your head. #75YearsofWipro #TheStoryofWipro."
How Wipro was born
(Yasmeen Premji, Gulbanoo Premji, Azim Premji at the Amalner plant- Early 1980s)
On December 29th, 1945, a businessman from Mumbai, Muhammad Husain Hasham Premji, registered Western India Vegetable Products Limited after buying an oil mill in Amalner, a city located in the Jalgaon district in Maharashtra. It was involved in the manufacturing of Vanaspati and has come a long way emerging as one of India's most esteemed companies spanning across consumer care, IT, automation, and infrastructure engineering, with a presence in more than 100 nations.
Few would have imagined that a company that made vegetable and refined oils would go on to become a conglomerate that today houses listed software giant, Wipro and an unlisted number of Wipro Enterprises- which has its consumer care, infrastructure engineering, and medical equipment businesses. This was all possible because of the ambition and vision of one man 'Azim Premji'.
Talking about the journey and inception Rishad Premji shares, "My grandparents Gulbanoo & MH Premji. She a Dr. who helped found a children’s hospital, he founded Western India Vegetable Prdts, later Wipro. They were a special couple, devoted to progressive causes. I didn’t know him at all but I still miss her. #TheStoryofWipro #75yearsofWipro."
My grandmother Dr Gulbanoo Premji with my parents at Amalner. She was chairperson of Wipro from 1966-83 & a huge support for my father in the early years. She was also the most generous person I knew. Her values shaped Wipro’s philanthropy ideals. #75YearsofWipro #TheStoryofWipro pic.twitter.com/jnFDnWNoW8— Rishad Premji (@RishadPremji) January 12, 2021
Taking the reins
(Azim Premji visiting the Santoor Soap Plant- Early 1990s)
Azim Premji, born as Azim Hasham Premji on July 24th, 1945, became one of the world's wealthiest people in the 21st century. 21-year-old Azim Premji returned to India in 1966 after he dropped out of Stanford University following his father's death to take charge of his business. Premji diversified into hydraulics, soap, and lighting. He later spotted an opportunity in the IT Sector Industry in the ‘80s and forayed into making computers after IBM exited India's market. Western India Vegetable products became Wipro with a focus on software and technology.
Wipro's Foray into IT Products and services
Premji expanded the business and concentrated on creating a technology venture comprising of both hardware and software. But as the software services business thrived, the former dwindled.
In an interaction with some students a few years ago Premji spoke about what drove him and what helped him succeed. "What inspired me was this ambition to be better than what we were doing in the past and to grow much faster than what we have grown in the past," said Premji. When asked what the mantra of his success is he said, "Hard work and lot of luck, two major things. And the only way to have sustained the success is to keep competing with yourself."
Frugal Life of Premji
Famously frugal in his personal life is India's most generous Billionaire. He was the First Billionaire who signed the Giving Pledge, a campaign led by Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, under which billionaires commit at least 50% of their wealth to philanthropy. He also upped the ante in 2019 when he committed almost two-third of his wealth or 21 Billion Dollars to philanthropy.
Azim Premji Foundation
Premji has earned more fame as a philanthropist than an entrepreneur. In 2001, he founded his philanthropic arm Azim Premji Foundation, which works in the areas of elementary education.
The Azim Premji Foundation in the last two decades has been training government school teachers in various parts of India in an effort to improve learning outcomes.
In December 2010, he pledged to donate US$2 billion for improving school education in India by transferring 213 million equity shares of Wipro to the Azim Premji Trust.
Premji has always believed that the wealthy must remain trustees of wealth for society and not its owners. In a convocation speech at NIIT Trichy, he underlined the importance of Truth and integrity, values that shaped him as an entrepreneur. “This has been the most important lesson of my life, that truth and integrity are the foundation of everything. In the absence of integrity, everything falls apart and if we are willing to face the truth and speak the truth and have integrity in all our actions, we can be confident that things will fall into place.
Wipro after Azim Premji
Azim Premji stepped down as the Chairman of Wipro in 2019, though he continues as founder chairman in a non-executive and non-independent role. His older son Rishad Premji took over as chairman.
In 2005, the Union government honored him with Padma Bhushan for his outstanding contribution to trade and commerce in India. Again in 2011, he was awarded Padma Vibhushan, the second-highest civilian award by the government. TIME magazine has twice ranked him among the world’s 100 most influential people. Premji’s reputation remained that of a highly ethical entrepreneur whose operation served as a model for other Indian firms.
The business, which is now helmed by Rishad Premji, generated $8.3 billion in annual revenue last year. Wipro also has a new CEO, Paris-based Thierry Delaporte who joined in July 2020 and many believe is the right candidate to help turn around Wipro's fortunes after years of middling growth. Rishad recently called him the right leader to take Wipro forward and also said that stakeholders would see an obsession for growth and a bolder Wipro that's not afraid to shake the Apple cart.