Azim Hashim Premji: Compassionate entrepreneur
The executive chairman of Wipro Limited, has been instrumental in turned his company into one of the global leaders in the software industry. The IT czar, who is also one of India’s and Asia’s most generous philanthropists, turns 74 today. A week later (July 30), he will retire as Wipro’s executive chief. While Premji Sr. will be succeeded by his son Rishad Premji as the executive chairman, the former will continue as Wipro founder chairman & non-executive director.
Premji was born in Mumbai on July 24, 1945 in a Gujarati Muslim family with roots in Kutch, Gujarat. His father, businessman Mohamed Hashem Premji who was known by the titled ‘Rice King of Burma’, had established the cooking oil and soap-making company named Western Indian Vegetable Products Ltd, based in Amalner in Jalgaon district, Maharashtra.
Young Azim Premji attended the St. Mary’s School in Mumbai. In 1966, he went to Stanford, US, to study electrical engineering but his father’s demise compelled the young man to cut short studies and return to India to take charge of his father’s company.
Soon after he assumed control of his father’s business, Premji began to look for diversification opportunities and strove to expand the business beyond refined oils. Soon, the company diversified to manufacture products like bakery fats, toiletries, light bulbs, hair care products, and hydraulic cylinders in its portfolio. As the company no longer dealt with just vegetable products, Premji renamed it Wipro (Western India Palm Refined Oils Limited) in 1977. Two years later, when the government expelled the computer firm IBM from the country, Premji saw
a great opportunity for tapping into the emerging computer hardware and software market and began moving Wipro into the computer business. Over the 1980s, the company collaborated with varied businesses to form partnerships and positioned Wipro as a manufacturer of computer hardware. During the 1980s, he began manufacturing minicomputers in collaboration with the Sentinel Computer Corporation and shifted his focus from soaps to the software market. The company enjoyed a successful run and Wipro’s value surged to great heights by the late 1990s. The company’s growing wealth ensured that Premji became one of the richest businessmen in the world.
Premji is married to Yasmeen Premji and Tariq and Rishad are their sons. Rishad is currently working as the chief strategy officer for Wipro’s IT business activities. The tycoon, who is well versed with the smallest details of his businesses, avoids interfering with everyday operations that are overseen by independent business heads. He enjoys trekking and loves watching movies.
In 2001, he founded the Azim Premji Foundation, a non-profit organisation, with a vision of developing the elementary education system in rural government schools. In December 2010, he pledged to donate $2 billion to the foundation, the largest donation of its kind in India. In March 2019, he pledged an additional 34% of Wipro stock held by him to the foundation. At a current value of about $ 7.5 billion, this allocation will bring the total endowment from him to the foundation to $ 21 billio, making it one of the five largest private endowments in the world and the largest in India. Apart from that, he is the first Indian to sign up for The Giving Pledge, a campaign led by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.
Other awards & achievements
2000: Honorary doctorate from Manipal University
2005: Winner of the Padma Bhushan
2008: Honorary degree from Aligarh Muslim University
2009: Awarded honorary doctorate by the Wesleyan University of Middletown, Connecticut, US
2011: Winner of the Padma Vibhushan
2013: The Economic Times Lifetime Achievement Award
2017: India Today magazine ranked him 9th on list of India’s 50 Most Powerful People
2004, 2011: Time Magazine listed him among world’s ‘100 Most Influential People’
During schooldays, Premji often played pranks on fellow students. As a result, he spent a lot of time outside the classroom due to punishments meted out for mischief and pranks he had played on peers.
When India was partitioned, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founding father, had invited Premji’s father, Mohamed Hashem Premji, to stay in Pakistan. Declining the invitation, the latter said he is a Hindustani and would remain in India.
In 2000, aged 55, Premji completed a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Stanford, US --- the same university that he had to leave in 1966 due to the sudden death of his father. As per the Forbes India Rich List 2018, Premji is the second richest Indian with a net worth of $22.2 billion (Source: TheRichest list of tech billionaires, June 2019; Forbes mentioned his real time net worth as $5.1 billion, July 23, 2019)
Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani topped the list with a net worth of $44.3 billion. (Source: Forbes, July 2018 figures)
Premji regards the late Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy (JRD) Tata as his icon. In an article, Premji wrote that JRD has been an icon for him, like many other people of his generation.
Sources: Wikipedia, Britannica.com