'Things changed for Wipro in 1977 when IBM left India''

When Azim Premji, 61, took over his family's company in 1966, it wasn't the outsourcing powerhouse it is today. Then, it was known as Western Indian Vegetable Products, a poorly managed producer of cooking oil.


Wipro is still cooking, but in a different and much more profitable way. As India's leading outsourcer, the company has locations around the globe and offers everything from research and development to customer-care call centers. Clients include Microsoft, Nokia and Sony.
It is a $2.4 billion company that hired 2,693 new employees last quarter, bringing its total staff to 56,435.
Premji's current good fortune, however, came at great personal expense. Premji was just 21 years old and a student at Stanford when he got the call that his father had suddenly died.
He was called home to Mumbai and literally worked his way through his grief, managing to transform a cooking oil company into one of India's most successful high-tech outfits. (Tara Weiss, Forbes)
Here, in his own words, is the account of how Azim Premji turned Western Indian Vegetable Products into Wipro.
"I inherited the company from my father after he died very unexpectedly from a heart attack in 1966. He was just 51-years-old, and I was 21.
"I was studying at Stanford University with two quarters left to go before receiving an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering. Then, I got the telephone call from my mother. I had no choice. I went home and I jumped into the company feet first, right from day one. There was no time to grieve my father.
"My dad told me he wanted me to join in the business, but nothing was firm. He was quite young when he died, so we hadn't talked about it in depth. Before I got my mother's phone call, I had wanted and planned to stay in the United States and work for a while before starting at the family business.
"The first three years at home were difficult. I didn't have experience in business, and the scope of my new responsibility awed me. Despite all that, I felt like I was being presented a challenge.
"The company was in a different context at that time -- it produced edible oil and was commodity-oriented and a very volatile business. Conditions were difficult, but I thought it was important to be down in the trenches.
"I spent a lot of time at our factory in a small village of 20,000 people that converted grain into the finished product. During the summers, the temperature was 110 to 120 degrees.
"But it was about to get even more uncomfortable. When I took over the family business, it had already been a publicly traded company for 20 years. During one of the first annual meetings I attended, one shareholder stood up and advised me and everyone in attendance that I should resign.
"He said the company was much too complex a business for a 21-year-old. It was a good kick start. That incident strengthened my resolve and reinforced my desire to be successful
"As the years went on, I oversaw Wipro's diversification into other products, including soaps, wax and tin containers. But things really changed in 1977, when IBM left the country after India's then-socialist government required them to have a staff that was at least 60% Indian.
"That opened the door for home-grown computer scientists and stepped up the government's push for increased computer education throughout the country.
"We seized that moment and began to find ways to capitalize on the computer's growing popularity and utility. By 1981, Wipro was producing its own computer. That profoundly changed my family's company.
"It changed me, too. When I started out in business, I was an electrical engineering student. In 1994, I went back and finally finished my bachelor's degree."



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