Azim Premji – Czar Of The Indian IT Industry!

Azim Hashim Premji was born on the 24th of July 1945 in the Indian city of Bombay (Mumbai). The boy proved to be a blessing for his family as his father, Muhammed Hashem Premji, founded Western Indian Vegetable Products Ltd in the same year his son was born. The company produced vanaspati, a widely used hydrogenated vegetable cooking oil, and a laundry soap called 787.

Last Days Of The Raj

Two years later, in 1947, the British colony of India was partitioned into two independent states, the Hindu majority state of India and the Muslim state of Pakistan. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, invited Muhammed Hashem Premji to come to live in Pakistan and even though the Premjis were a Muslim family, he humbly turned down the invite and chose to remain in India.

The young Azim Premji continued his studies in India and after graduating from St. Xavier’s College, he got enrolled at Stanford University to study Electrical Engineering. Sadly, however, in 1966, the 21-year-old prodigy’s academic life came to a pause when his father passed away. The Indian billionaire would not be able to complete his degree until after 34 years, in the year 2000!

Postponing his graduation, Premji returned home and took over the family business as Managing Director. Almost immediately, the young entrepreneur began to diversify, delving into the domain of consumer products such as bakery fats, ethnic ingredient based toiletries, hair care soaps, and lighting products.

The Foundations Of WIPRO

Soon after, he married Yasmeen Chinoy and the couple gave birth to two sons, Rishad and Tariq. In 1977, Premji renamed his company to WIPRO Products Limited- WIPRO being an abbreviation for Western India Palm Refined Oil. The ‘Products’ was dropped from the name in 1982 when the company was renamed WIPRO Limited.

In the 1970s, the emerging field of IT was dominated by the American firm, IBM. However, after its expulsion in 1977 for dumping obsolete and low-quality hardware in the Indian market, there was a vacuum left behind.

Premji took advantage of this opportunity and forayed into the high-technology sector by manufacturing minicomputers in technological collaboration with an American company, Sentinel Computer Corporation. By 1980, the company had officially shifted its focus from soaps to new opportunities in the IT and computing industry.

Entering The IT Industry

Over the 80s, Wipro successfully partnered with various international firms to help it build computer hardware for sale in India. The IT billionaire had successfully tapped into India’s large pool of well-educated software developers who were willing to work for much less money than their American counterparts. Soon, Wipro was developing custom made software for export, primarily to the United States.

Entry into the IT industry never meant Wipro had strayed away from its roots. It continued expanding in the consumer products domain. 1990 saw the Indian billionaire launching the Santoor talcum powder and the Wipro Baby Soft range of toiletries. In 1988, the company diversified its product line into mobile hydraulic cylinders and heavy-duty industrial cylinders, and by 1992, its Fluid Power division was offering standard hydraulic cylinders for truck tipping systems and construction equipment.

Successful Partnerships

Wipro partnered up with General Electric South Asia in 1990. The purpose of the joint venture, Wipro GE Medical Systems Limited, was the research and development of healthcare products. As of today, it has yielded countless gadgets, equipment, and IT services to aid healthcare professionals.

The turn of the century brought the Y2K bug fear with it. Petrified of getting their IT infrastructures toppled, global companies needed help to rewrite computer code and maintain their servers. It was due to this and the dot-com bubble that the era saw a substantial increase in technology stocks. Wipro’s shares were at all-time highs too and Premji soon found himself on the list of the world’s richest entrepreneurs.

However, money didn’t change the Indian billionaire who never lost his modesty, lack of extravagance, and charitable nature. In 2001, he founded the Azim Premji Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of elementary education in the rural areas of India.

Azim Premji The Philanthropist

At its inception, Premji endowed the foundation with Wipro shares worth $125 million. This was just the first step in the IT billionaire’s long journey of transferring his Wipro shares in a staggered manner to the endowment. The road’s end would see him become one of the world’s foremost philanthropists.

As of 2020, his Azim Premji Foundation had extended computer-aided education to thousands of schools in more than 40 districts of India, with child-friendly content increasingly available in local languages. Following the outbreak of the Coronavirus, it also developed an augmenting testing infrastructure and pledged $134 million to support the civil society in dealing with the pandemic.

Wipro penetrated the fluorescent market in 2002 when the company’s Lighting Group launched its range of compact fluorescent lamps under the brand name of Wipro Smartlite. The same year saw Premji’s company become India’s first software technology and services company to be ISO 14001 certified.

Honored With The Padma Bhushan And Padma Vibushan

The Indian billionaire was honored with the Padma Bhushan in 2005 for his outstanding work in trade and commerce and then with the Padma Vibushan in 2011, the second-highest civilian award in India. 2010 saw Wipro being ranked number 1 in the 2010 Asian Sustainability Rating (ASR) of Indian companies after entering the clean energy business with Wipro Eco-Energy in 2008.

While his company continued to add zeros to its revenue streams, Premji’s charitable donations rocketed as well. In 2019, Forbes magazine’s ‘Hero of Philanthropy’ pledged Wipro shares worth US$ 7.5 billion to his foundation which brought his total endowment to the organization to a staggering US$ 21 billion.

Soon after giving away 34% of his stake in Wipro, the IT billionaire announced that he would be stepping down as the Executive Chairman of Wipro. After steering this billion-dollar ship for 53 years, the old entrepreneur was handing over the reins to his eldest son, Rishad Premji.

The Czar of the Indian IT industry’s exemplary life took us from him selling soaps to becoming the 15th richest man in India while educating millions of children on the way.

His net worth in 2022 was estimated at approximately $9.1 billion USD according to Forbes.

My Thoughts

These IT billionaires have opened up the industry for many people worldwide. A large number of people have become wealthy by using the software and hardware created by these IT giants.

The sales and marketing of these software and hardware products have earned many people large commissions.

There is still a massive opportunity to create wealth within the IT sector. Premji had the vision to move his business towards the IT sector. This strategic move has earned this entrepreneur billions of dollars.

Although Azim Premji was not born into poverty, he had to quit his studies and take over his father’s business. His business acumen transformed WIPRO into the company that it is now.

In business you need to keep your eyes open to the next emerging growth sector. If you can establish yourself before the growth and ride the growth wave, you can become super wealthy.

Azim Premji has not forgotten his core principles and has decided to give back to the people. He is one of the biggest philanthropists in the world. He lives a modest lifestyle, without showing off his wealth. He does not spend much money on unnecessary luxuries.

He was know to drive an old ford car, even after his net worth rocketed into the multiple billions of dollars.

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