Azim Premji’s entrepreneurial journey is all about opportunity spotting and taking charge of a family business in times of adversity. Having completed his schooling in Mumbai, Premji was pursuing studies in electrical engineering at Stanford University, USA when he was 21. Due to the sudden death of his father in 1966, he had to leave his education mid-way and come back to charge of the family business. His father’s company was Western India Products that would manufacture hydrogenated vegetable fats and oil, hair care soaps, and ethnic ingredient based toiletries.
When Premji took charge of the company, he was only 21 years old. Lots of individuals including the shareholders when on to revolt his appointment as he was perceived as young and lacked business experience. He truly had the belief that he would prove them wrong and held his position at the helm. With the first 10 years, they focused on expanding the company’s product line by creating hydraulic cylinders, which were needed for the production of oils and other products. He started making effective use of byproducts of oil by manufacturing soaps. With this diversification and rise in profits, he won the confidence of the shareholders. In 1977, he renamed the company to WIPRO.
But, this was not his calling and he continued to hunt for his niche. Under the brand name WIPRO, they started manufacturing truck trippers and hydraulics. This was another business area where Premji saw an opportunity and explored it immediately. But it was only in 1979 when he found his calling. Back then, IBM was undertaking business activities in the country without permission. He chose to divert his attention towards the IT and computer producing and soon became world’s prominent computer producer. Post this, Premji shifted his focus to software development where WIPRO excelled.
In 1991, after the economic deregulation, manufacturing of lamps, powders, oil-based natural ingredients, medical and diagnostic equipment and IT hardware products such as printers and scanners etc were undertaken by WIPRO. It also entered the IT services business and was among the first to experiment with offshore IT services. Wipro became the only Indian computer manufacturer to receive Y2K-compliant certification from the National Software Testing Laboratory in the US in 1999. It also entered into a joint venture with KPN to provide internet services in India.
Constant innovation and diversification is what helped Premji make a name for himself and turn WIPRO into one of India’s finest organizations. With revenues of $7 billion, IT contributes 75% of it, which he diversified in 13 years after entering the business. A firm believer in philanthropy, he has given away 25% of his wealth as a part of the Giving Pledge. Having been honored with The Padma Bhushan and The Padma Vibhushan, he is one of India’s most well-known and respected business leaders and entrepreneurs. Wipro under his leadership from a US $2mn cooking fat company into a conglomerate spanning multiple businesses that are generating revenue of US $7bn. Premji is indeed one of the pioneers in developing the IT sector in India and putting the sector on the global stage.
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