Azim Hashim Premji is an Indian business tycoon who is the chairman of Wipro Limited, a multinational IT Consulting and System Integration services company which is currently one of the largest IT services company in the world. Premji, who took over the company as its chairman almost half a century ago, led Wipro through decades of expansion and diversification to make it one of India's largest publicly traded companies. Originally founded as a vegetable products and refined oil company by Premji’s father, the company entered the computer business in the 1970s under the leadership of Premji. Soon the company carved a niche for itself in the software market and became one of the global leaders in the software industry. Born as the son of a successful businessman, Azim Premji had a privileged childhood. After completing his schooling he went to the Stanford University to study engineering. However, the untimely death of his father back home meant that he had to return and take over the control of his father’s business. Over the years he gained recognition not just as a successful businessman, but also earned much respect for the high ethical standards maintained in his company and for his commitment to give back to the society
Childhood & Early Life
Azim Premji was born on July 24, 1945, in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, into a Nizari Ismaili Shia Muslim family. His father Mohamed Hashem Premji was a prominent businessman who founded the Western Indian Vegetable Products Ltd., a company dealing in vegetable products and refined oils. One of its most famous products was “Vanaspati”, a hydrogenated shortening.
In 1947 British India was partitioned into India and Pakistan, and Jinnah invited the senior Premji to come to Pakistan. However the family, in spite of being a Muslim one, chose to stay back in India.
After completing his schooling, Azim Premji went to the US to study engineering from Stanford University. However, his father died unexpectedly shortly before his graduation in 1966 and he had to return home to take control of the business. He would officially complete his Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering years later.
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Azim Premji took control of his father’s business in 1966 when he was just 21 years old. At that time the company primarily dealt in hydrogenated oil manufacturing. Soon after assuming control, Premji began to look for diversification opportunities and strove to expand the business beyond refined oils.
Soon the company diversified to include bakery fats, toiletries, light bulbs, hair care products, and hydraulic cylinders in its portfolio. Since the company no longer dealt with just vegetable products, Premji renamed it “Wipro” in 1977.
In 1979, the Indian government expelled the computer firm IBM from the country. Premji saw this as 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 several other businesses in the computer field, including an American company Sentinel Computer Corporation, to form partnerships and positioned Wipro as a successful manufacturer of computer hardware. Eventually the company entered the software market too.
Driven by the quest to achieve the highest standards of quality, Premji ensured that his company hired the best brains in software engineering and provided them with world-class training to further hone their skills. This helped Wipro to develop high-quality software at considerably lower costs as compared to American companies, enabling Wipro to successfully export custom software to the US.
The company enjoyed immense success and Wipro’s value surged to great heights by the late 1990s. The growing wealth of the company also ensured that Premji became one of the richest businessmen in the world. The ‘Business Week’ hailed him for being one of the Greatest Entrepreneurs for making Wipro one of the fastest growing companies in the world.
Azim Premji inherited Western Indian Vegetable Products Ltd, a company producing hydrogenated cooking oil, and transformed it into Wipro, an IT Consulting and System Integration services company which is today one of the largest IT Services firm in the World. The company has its presence in 67 countries and has a market capitalization of approximately $ 35 billion as on March 2015.
Awards & Achievements
Azim Premji is the recipient of several honorary degrees. In 2000, he was conferred an honorary doctorate by the Manipal Academy of Higher Education and in 2009 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Wesleyan University in Connecticut for his outstanding philanthropic work.
In 2005, he was conferred with the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India for his outstanding work in trade and commerce.
He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award by the Government of India, in 2011.
Personal Life & Legacy
He is married to Yasmeen, and has two children: Rishad and Tariq. Rishad is currently the Chief Strategy Officer of IT Business, Wipro.
Azim Premji has a deep faith in giving back to the society. He founded the Azim Premji Foundation, a non-profit organization, in 2001. Through this foundation he aims to contribute towards achieving quality education for all in rural India in order to build a more equitable and sustainable society. The foundation functions in several states including Karnataka, Rajasthan, Pondicherry, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar.
He is the first Indian to sign up for The Giving Pledge, a campaign led by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. The campaign aims to encourage the world’s wealthiest people to make a commitment to give most of their wealth to philanthropic causes.
As of August 2015, Azim Premji has a net worth of US $17.1 billion.