Azim Premji: Finishing a Giant Circle of Success


If there was a heaven on earth, it will definitely look like a big happy family. People often do unimaginable things to keep it that way. In 1966, when the news of his father’s death shook the young Azim Hashim Premji (Chairman, Wipro), something that gave him the strength was his thoughts about his family. Far away from home, the 21-year-old boy took a bold decision – to give up his academic career at Stanford University, where he was studying engineering, and return home. He started from where his father (Muhammed Hashim Premji) left off, taking over the family business. Hashim, a true patriot who even turned down a direct invitation from Muhammad Ali Jinnah to go to Pakistan, was also an established businessman, who incorporated Western Indian Vegetable Products Ltd., based out of Amalner – a small town in the outskirts of Maharashtra.

Despite the eternal void created by his father’s demise, towards the end of 1966, the young entrepreneur started his entrepreneurial journey. A born leader, Azim soon diversified the company into manufacturing bakery fats, toiletries, hair care soaps, lighting products, and hydraulic cylinders. But at his heart, he always kept a boutique space for his engineering days in the Stanford University. In the early 80s, when the opportunities from the emerging IT industry came knocking on the doors and when the business world hardly recognized the dawn of a new era,  Azim was quick to pounce. He in truth took an excellent advantage of the market gap left behind by the withdrawal of IBM from India. 

New Roads & Different Destinations

In 1982, the name of the company was changed to Wipro Limited, as the emerging entrepreneur commenced the company’s journey in the high-technology sector by manufacturing minicomputers, owing thanks to its technological collaboration with Sentinel Computer Corporation – an American software company. The years followed witnessed the massive transformation of Wipro, shifting its focus from soaps to software. Azim was strongly motivated and driven by his ambition to perform better than what his family (business) was doing and adapt to a faster track of growth than they were in the past.

Through the decades that followed, Azim wrote his own anecdote as Wipro grew to become one of the global leaders in the IT sector while also expanding rapidly in the consumer market. The company formed dozens of business associations with organizations across the world, growing at an amazing pace. Welcoming the 21st century with its entry into the internet services segment was yet another milestone in Azim’s journey. Wipro joined hands with KPN (Royal Dutch Telecom) to form a joint venture – Wipro Net Limited – to bring internet services to India. In 2000, Wipro was listed on the New York Stock Exchange and after merely a couple of years, the company became the first software technology and services company in India to be ISO 14001 certified.

The Sweetest of All Recognition

Over the years, awards & recognition were poured on Azim in abundance by the entire country and often the international business world. While the Manipal Academy of Higher Education recognized him with an honorary doctorate in 2000, five years after, the Government of India honored him with Padma Bhushan for his outstanding contributions to the trade and commerce sector. In 2011, he was honored by the Government of India yet again; this time with the award of Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award in the country. The sweetest of all the recognition that were poured on him over the past five decades would be a unique degree that he once missed out on – a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University. However, it’s an irony that the cost of the great entrepreneur’s success was not just hard work, but also less time spent with his beloved family, which decades ago started driving him to this beautiful destination.

Today, Azim has completed a giant cycle of success and is rightly focused on giving back his success to the people of this country. He was never thrilled by being rich. In fact, way back in 2001, he founded the Azim Premji Foundation, a non-profit organization that strives hard to establish a better educational system in government schools across rural India. In 2013, Azim became the first Indian to be a part of the international campaign – The Giving Pledge – led by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates to encourage the wealthiest people to give back to the society around them. He is the third non-American entrepreneur to sign up for this philanthropic initiative after Richard Branson and David Sainsbury.

Bidding Adieu

After more than five decades and concocting memorable revolutions in the sector, Azim recently stepped down from the chairmanship of Wipro, passing the reins to his son Rishad. He will continue to serve on the board as non-executive director and founder-chairman. In his last letter to Wipro shareholders, Azim wrote: ‘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 new opportunities. This has been possible because of the deep commitment and hard work of Wiproites and the core values that have remained our guiding light.’

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