Patriotic Businessman: Ex-Colleague Subroto Bagchi on Azim Premji
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After 50 years at the helm of Wipro Limited, Azim Premji will be stepping down as the chairperson next month, and will be replaced by son Rishad. Premji will continue to serve on its board as non-executive director for the next five years.
Over time, Premji’s reputation as a philanthropist has eclipsed his work as a business leader. By reportedly earmarking all economic benefits in 34 percent of Wipro shares for philanthropic ends in March this year, Premji has now contributed approximately $21 billion for philanthropic works.
A reclusive man who is not seen much in public events and functions, there is a certain sense of mystery attributed to Premji, who is seen as doing good work quietly. The Quint caught up with Premji’s one-time colleague Subroto Bagchi, who worked at Wipro for a long time — some of it directly under Premji — before leaving it to co-found Mindtree, an IT solutions company based out of Bengaluru.
Integrity, Respect, Hardwork
Chief among the various lessons Bagchi attributes to picking up from the mogul are integrity, respect and hard work.
“For Mr Premji, the idea of integrity, in his own words, is black and white. And he says it has to be black and white, because if you play around, and in between black and white, there are many shades of grey. The second thing that I learnt from Mr Premji is respect for other people. You know, his greatness was in his ability to surround himself with people who in their own areas were more competent than him. Third, the value of hard work. He makes sure that he works hard before he expects you to work hard,” he said.
Bagchi said that similar to a middle-class Indian family, Wipro was governed with the principles of frugality in mind.
But Who is the Man Behind the Money?
According to Bagchi, if one views the idea of business from Premji’s angle, there is principle, philanthropy and purpose.
“In a country where you don’t expect business and principle to be intertwined, you have the idea of a principle-driven business, the performance, and then this philanthropy. So, somewhere, this philanthropy has overshadowed everything else,” he said.
Bagchi said that over time, a sense of saintliness had set in in Premji, one that came from a sense of loneliness.
“I think Premji is a loner, you have never seen him in a party. That sense (of saintliness) comes from loneliness. That sets him apart. What is that loneliness, where is it coming from? That loneliness is coming from the feeling about ‘what does it mean to be Indian’...what would it be mean to be an Indian 10, 15, 20 years, 200 years from now.”Subroto Bagchi to The Quint
Bagchi believes that beyond the money, Premji is a man who is continuously thinking and breathing about the way he can achieve his purpose.
“It has gone into him at a level where he is saying he will practically leave his entire wealth behind to address issues like this. It comes from a certain sense of purpose,” he said.
Stating that Premji was part of the nation-building agenda, Bagchi said that he truly believed that business was a powerful tool of change.
“As a result what happened, a whole generation, to which I belong, came up where there was absolutely no need to explain what integrity means. So I think that’s his greatest contribution.”
‘Impossible for Premji to Retire’
Bagchi said that, in his experience, Wipro always functioned such that if at all there was a reason for a change of guard at the helm, it could be done without causing a single jerk in the organisation.
As for Rishad, Bagchi said that he mustn’t labour under the cliché that he has ‘big shoes to fill’
“I think Rishad has one of the best educations going for him. Best training outside of Wipro and then a long period of actually grooming inside Wipro where he was not given entitlement because he was somebody’s son, he had to earn his keep. All this has prepared him well for the job, he doesn’t have to have the pressure of filling somebody else’s shoes,” he said.
The sun sets on one horizon and rises in another horizon, so the sun doesn’t set. So Mr Premji may actually be coming out of responsibilities in Wipro and, as a result, the sun will actually rise on the horizon of Indian philanthropy or global philanthropy.
Also Read : Who is Rishad Premji, Wipro’s New Chairman?