Azim Premji Bets Big On Four Areas In His Last Wipro AGM As Chairman
Wipro founder and outgoing chairman Azim Premji. (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

Azim Premji Bets Big On Four Areas In His Last Wipro AGM As Chairman

Azim Premji turned Wipro Ltd. from a small vegetable oil company into India’s fourth-largest information technology company. As his five-decade long stint at the helm nears an end, Premji has identified four areas that will be key to the firm’s growth.

Digital technologies, cloud computing, engineering services and cyber security will “lead” Wipro into the future at a time of “rapid change”, Premji told shareholders while chairing his last annual general meeting. With board approval, Premji said the company will “significantly” step up investments in these areas.

“While we invest in new capabilities, we also strive to remain lean,” Premji said at the Wipro AGM, pointing to how the IT firm divested its data centre business to boost return on capital employed.

Premji will step down as executive chairman and managing director on July 30, making way for his son Rishad Premji to take over. Premji will continue to serve on Wipro’s board as founder chairman and non-executive director.

“Rishad brings to this role new ways of thinking, broad experience, and competence that will lead Wipro to greater heights,” Premji said. “He has been an integral part of the leadership team since 2007, and has a deep understanding of the company, its business strategy, its culture and its heritage. He is also completely committed to the values which form the bedrock of Wipro.”

Leading Wipro, Premji said, was the greatest privilege of his life. He thanked “generations of Wiproites and their families” and the company’s clients, partners and stakeholders for their contributions to the company’s success.

Premji, who is also India’s most generous philanthropist, said that in retirement he will dedicate most of his time and energy towards the efforts of the Azim Premji Foundation. “As announced earlier, I have irrevocably renounced more of my personal assets and earmarked them to the endowment which supports the Azim Premji Foundation’s philanthropic activities,” he said.

Watch the video here:

Full text of Premji’s speech at Wipro AGM:

This year marks the 75th year of creating value for our stakeholders. Wipro was established in 1945. It is an important milestone and we have pride in how Wipro has grown as an exemplar of a successful, ethical and a socially responsible organization.

If we look back at the journey of Wipro in the last seven decades, from a small vegetable oil company to a leading information technology company that we are today, we have evolved by constantly re-inventing ourselves and creating newer opportunities. This has been possible because of the dedication and hard work of Wiproites, and our absolute commitment to our Values, which we call the Spirit of Wipro.

Along this journey, we have always focused on building capabilities that will create business value for our clients. Today, transformative digital technologies are emerging at an unprecedented rate and technology is becoming part of the core for all products and services. Established business models are being challenged to give way to new.

To lead in this time of rapid change we have sharpened our strategy into four pillars based on what our clients need i.e. Business Re-imagination, Engineering Transformation & Modernization, Connected Intelligence, and Trust. In order to build the capabilities that are needed to deliver these strategies, we have been investing significantly in four areas -- Digital, Cloud, Engineering Services and Cyber Security. While we invest in new capabilities, we also strive to remain lean.

For example, we divested our datacenter business in FY19. This has improved our return on capital employed.

We are committed to enhancing value for our stakeholders

There were several bright spots in our overall performance in FY19. On a full year basis, we grew 5.4% in constant currency. Two of the business units - BFSI and CBU grew by 16% and 10% respectively. Our Digital revenues grew by 33% YoY in constant currency. We won our largest ever deal of $1.5Bn from Alight in US. This deal is a testimony to the capabilities in enterprise scale modernization & transformation. For the year, our operating margins improved by 1.8% because of our relentless focus on the quality of revenues and costs.

Our EPS for the year ending March 31st, 2019 grew by 18.6% YoY, which was the best in the last 5 years. We improved our working capital substantially and our free cash flows were robust at 106% of our net profits.

We have a capital allocation philosophy of providing regular and stable payout to investors keeping two important considerations, one that of building long term stakeholder value and two that of having sufficient liquidity for future investments. Consistent with this philosophy, we declared a dividend of INR 1 per share, completed a bonus issue of one equity share for every three held in March 2019, and also announced a payout of INR 105 billion through buyback to the shareholders in April 2019. The Board & the shareholders have approved a proposal to buyback equity shares of the company and the process will be completed by August 2019 subject to approval of SEBI.

As a large technology company which employs 1,70,000+ people, we believe that we have a deep responsibility to drive an inclusive growth. Technologies like

digital and AI are disrupting the way services are rendered and the ability to learn becomes vital for our employees. At Wipro, we have made significant investments in reskilling our employees in digital technologies.

We are also using TopGear, our social learning and crowdsourcing platform as a workforce transformation tool as it has 2000+ learning assignments across 200+ skills. Today we already have 90,000+ employees participating through TopGear. Localization is an important initiative we are driving to create a global, diverse and distributed talent base. In the last few years of running this program we have successfully localized in all our major markets like US, UK, Australia, Canada, Singapore, Africa and Middle East.

It is quite clear that climate change is one of the greatest challenges that human-kind has ever faced. It is equally clear that businesses must fully contribute to tackling this challenge. Wipro has led the business community on climate action over the past decade. This year, we have significantly scaled up the use renewable energy for our operations, which now contributes 40% of our total consumption. Recycled water now contributes to 42 % of our total water usage.

Equally, Wipro believes that all businesses must contribute to the communities that they are citizens of. Our social and community initiatives have deepened and grown over the years. Education has been the primary focus of our work for close to two decades now. Till date we have partnered with 166 organizations working in school education. Wipro Earthian, a sustainability education program focused on water and bio-diversity, has reached out to 8,600 schools over the last nine years. The Wipro Science Education fellowship in the USA, which we started in 2013, works in seven sites across 35 school districts on improving STEM learning in schools serving disadvantaged communities. This year, we are collaborating with Kings College London and Sheffield Hallam University to provide rigorous

continuous professional development to STEM teachers working in schools that serve disadvantaged comunities.

Our employees are also deeply connected with our local communities, across the world. Through Wipro Cares, our employees have worked on education for disadvantaged children and for children with disabilities. They have also worked with partners who provide quality primary health care services to underserved communities.

I have always believed in Mahatma Gandhi’s dictum, that we must remain ‘trustees’ of our wealth for society, not its owners. As announced earlier, I have irrevocably renounced more of my personal assets and earmarked them to the endowment which supports the Azim Premji Foundation’s philanthropic activities. The total value of the philanthropic endowment corpus contributed over time is INR 150,000 crores, which includes 67% of economic ownership of Wipro Limited.

We remain committed to building a glorious future

I am pleased to share that Rishad Premji, Chief Strategy officer and Member of the Board, will take over as the Executive Chairman of Wipro Limited with effect from July 31, 2019.

Rishad brings to this role new ways of thinking, broad experience, and competence that will lead Wipro to greater heights. He has been an integral part of the leadership team since 2007, and has a deep understanding of the company, its business strategy, its culture and its heritage. He is also completely committed to the values which form the bedrock of Wipro.

I am also pleased to announce that Abidali Neemuchwala will be the Managing Director of Wipro Limited from July 31, 2019, in addition to being the Chief Executive Officer. I will continue to serve on the Board of Wipro Limited as Non-Executive Director and Founder Chairman, while dedicating most of my time and energy to the philanthropic efforts of the Foundation.

Further, after an association of nearly two decades with Wipro, Mr. Narayanan Vaghul and Dr. Ashok Ganguly will be retiring from the Wipro Board as of 31st July 2019. Wipro has benefitted immensely from their wisdom and guidance I thank them both from the depths of my heart. We also welcome Mrs. Arundhati Bhattacharya to the Wipro Board as a Non-Executive Independent Director, I am confident that her deep repository of knowledge spanning across the financial services sector combined with her understanding of technology will further strengthen the Board.

Leading Wipro from 1966 till now has been the greatest privilege of my life, it has been an extraordinary journey. I want to thank the generations of Wiproites and their families for their contribution towards building our company to what it is today. I am grateful to our clients, partners, and other stakeholders who have reposed trust and confidence in us.

Wipro will continually transform to scale new heights as the world changes while remaining firmly committed to its values. I am confident that the future of Wipro will far outshine anything that we have done before.

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