Interviews – Technology – Azim Premji

Azim Premji, chairman of Indian software company Wipro, is the world’s third richest man after Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Wal-Mart’s Robson Walton. His personal fortune of $54.7bn dwarfs that of the Sultan of Brunei at $29.3bn. Justpeople asked him for the secrets of his success

What advice do you have for ambitious young people?
Hard work is the most critical ingredient of success. And hard work must be towards a purpose. You have to identify a purpose that inspires you, challenges you and gives you tremendous satisfaction to pursue. Then pursue that with a single-minded, determined and unwavering perseverance. The future is not what happens to you, but what you make of it. Do not wait for opportunity to come your way. Actively search for opportunities and grab them when you see them.

Never stop learning. What is important is not your existing knowledge alone, but your ability to keep refreshing it dynamically. And in this era of the Internet it is necessary for ambitious people to equip themselves with cutting edge technology. You must accept the certainty of uncertainty. Things no longer happen in a linear, predictable manner. Develop the art of influencing team members and play to win. Learning to persist in the face of bitter disappointments is the key to success.

To what extent have these principles helped you build your business?
Wipro was not blessed with the abundance of resources that many multinational corporations enjoy. However, what we do have is integrity, unshakeable self-confidence, determination and effort to bolster global competition. We have put in hours of relentless work towards achieving this. We have been able to acquire world-class processes, develop world-class teams and attract world-class leadership.

How do you combine good ethics with good business?
At Wipro our business philosophy is our promise to the customer: ‘With utmost respect for human values, we promise to serve the customer with integrity, through a variety of innovative, value for money products and services, by applying thought day after day.’

Do you have to sacrifice some business opportunities in order to be ethical?
On the contrary. We find being ethical is a business tool that gives structure to our functioning and brings in more business in the long run. We have had no problem with practicing the value of integrity. Because Wipro has a reputation of being transparent in every respect, we have saved time and effort in conducting business interactions.

What has your experience taught you?
My experience has taught me that people and organizations live for the future. And it is the customer who really has the choice to grant us that future.

The future will see significant changes in technology, economy and society. But what will remain unchanged is the need of the customer for an organization with a human face. We have built Wipro with the core human values in mind, along with integrity, innovative solutions and value for money, and we will use these values to grow into the future.

India takes justifiable pride in its information technology sector. How can India build on this success to enhance its international reputation?
Indian companies must make themselves more efficient to meet global competition and we must build better customer relations.

India can make a global impact with hi-tech software. However, companies need to embrace telecoms and electronic commerce to retain their lead. They will constantly need to upgrade the competencies of staff, not only in the latest technology, but also in cross-cultural skills and managing large, complex projects.

Over the years, the Indian software industry has grown both in volume and international acceptance. Success stories of companies like Hotmail, Exodus, Ecode are all examples of Indians who have taken Silicon Valley by storm. Software export from India is targeted to reach $50bn by 2008.

The biggest driver for this opportunity will be the proliferation of the Internet. The number of Internet users in India in 1999 will be around 2.3 million and is expected to explode to 70 million users by the year 2003.

And as the Internet expands, computers and related services will not be far behind. The PC continues to be the primary Internet access device in the US. Even though other Internet appliances will emerge in Asia, the installed base of PCs will increase at an amazing rate and this will have its impact on computer related support and services.

Do you recruit from Europe and the US?
Yes. We have hired in the US and Europe, and plan to visit US campuses for fresh recruits in the marketing function this year. As we grow globally it is necessary to have a healthy mix of employees.

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