A large Indian flag joined the four Stars and Stripes hanging from the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday. The reason was apparent when a smiling Azim Premji rang the bell that marked the opening of trading on the exchange on Tuesday morning.
The head of software giant Wipro later gave a half-serious explanation of why he had participated in this ritual for the fifth time in seven years, “The last four times I rang the bell, the markets have gone up.”
Members of the New York Stock Exchange were more prosaic, saying that Premji was here because it was 2007 Analysts Day, when company heads got a chance to meet Wall Street investment analysts.
Soon after he rang the buzzer at 9:30 in the morning, Premji went off to talk to analysts about his firm’s successes the past year and its prospects in the coming one.
A grey-suited Premji admitted there was 'nothing earth-shattering' in what he planned to tell US investment firms. “This is a chance to answer questions at an individualized level," he said.
Interviewed on the Stock Exchange’s internal video system, Premji was asked to explain what his firm did. When he described how Wipro did not complement but competed with firms like IBM and Accenture, an exchange official said, "Those are pretty big companies." Premji's reply: "We are a pretty big company."
Wipro expected to renew 85 per cent of its client contracts even while raising charges by “three to five or six per cent,” said Premji.
Premji first rang the bell at the exchange in October 2000, when his firm was first listed in the US. He came back in 2002 and has returned every winter since 2005. "Sixty per cent of our incomes comes from the United States," he noted. "And we recently expanded into Canada."
While Wipro now earns a large share of its revenue from product development, Premji said the firm had no intention of getting into the business of making its own products.
"We are a service company," he insisted. "However, we are developing intellectual property. Wipro has over 40 patents and earns money from licensing them to others."
The opening bell has been described as a meeting of Hollywood and Wall Street. The heads of firms listed on the exchange for the first time always get a chance at the balcony. But so do actresses like Sarah Jessica Parker and even cartoon characters like Mr Potato Head.
The exchange introduced a Chinese gong to open trading in 1871. It then moved upwards to a shiny bell that rings when someone presses the buzzer when the exchange moved to Wall Street in 1903.
Earlier it was treated as just a mundane administrative duty until 1995 when the exchange’s management realized how it could be turned into a television ceremony and a brand-booster for an increasingly competitive business.
An estimated 90 per cent of the opening and closing bells are rung by guests rather than floor managers.