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Rediff News  All News  » Business » Rishad Premji: Student prince

Rishad Premji: Student prince

June 11, 2007 09:34 IST

In the second half of July this year, when Rishad Premji, the eldest son of Wipro Chairman Azim Premji, joins the company as a business manager, Pratik Kumar, executive vice president-HR will have a tough time.

So also will Girish S Paranjpe, head of the banking, finance and insurance vertical, in whose department Rishad will be working.

Both will have to deal with a prospective top boss like 'any other employee.' So serious is the company about this arrangement that it refuses to even share a picture of this 'employee.'

Learning the ropes the hard way is important as it is recognised that a degree from a premier B-school, which Rishad has, is not sufficient to be a successful businessman. Examples to illustrate this are available to the young Premji both near and far from home.

Addressing the annual convocation of IIM, Bangalore last year, Sunil Bharti Mittal recalled how he could not pursue an MBA degree and had to plunge into business fresh out of college. Yet, he is considered one of the most successful entrepreneurs the country has known.

So also Azim Premji, the chairman and CEO of Wipro. When he was just 21, he had to discontinue his studies due to the untimely death of his father M H Premji and take charge of a dying business.

"It's like being thrown into a swimming pool. To avoid drowning, you learn to swim quickly," Premji is quoted as saying in the recently published Bangalore Tiger by Steve Hamm.

"I think by bringing him into Wipro as an employee, Azim Premji has given the right kind of message to other people in the organisation as well as the business world. He will be trained and will get a chance like any other employee to be groomed for the top post. This is a standard practice in any professional organisation and Premji has followed the same," says Abhoy K Ojha, a professor in the organisation behaviour department at IIM-B.

Azim Premji, without having any exposure to the corporate world, took charge of a $3 million plus company -- then known as Western India Vegetable Products -- and grew it brick by brick to a $3 billion technology leader having more than 70,000 people on board.

Transforming a cooking oil producing company to India's third largest IT exporter took decades. At 30, Rishad has embarked on his own journey whose transformation quotient is yet unknown.

Azim Premji had always been clear on the issue of inheritance. In an interview to Guardian last year, he said, "We have many more mature people and probably the most effective people in the organisation. You cannot hand an organisation of this complexity and size to sons. I think anyone who takes over has to earn it on merit and this job requires a fair degree of maturity. It's a complex job, a global job."

When Business Standard asked Pratik Kumar about the selection procedure that Rishad had to undergo, Kumar said the appropriateness of Rishad's selection was not in question. "He had a strong desire to come back to India and was looking for a role in Wipro to fit his age, background and experience. We found his case a strongly desired profile." He added that how Rishad evolves depends entirely on him, how he handles things.

Those who know Rishad closely say that like his father, he always tries to maintain a low profile. Azim Premji might not have got any guidance on running a business from his father, but his influence on Rishad is not in question.

Rishad has read in some of the best known educational institutions in the world, like Wesleyan University and Harvard Business School. Before pursuing his MBA at Harvard, he worked for General Electric, the company which is considered to have changed the fate of Wipro in the '90s by becoming its first major customer by outsourcing software applications and development work.

After earning his MBA, Rishad worked with consulting firm Bain & Company, which had also groomed Vivek Paul, vice chairman until he left in 2005, and considered to be one of the most influential professionals in the development of Wipro. Paul was recruited from Bain & Co in 1990 to head Wipro-GE Medical Systems, the joint venture between Wipro and GE.

As Azim Premji owns 80 per cent of Wipro, the journey to the top of the firm, albeit professionally run and publicly listed, by his eldest son will be considered by many to be a fait accompli.

But those who are familiar with how important integrity and process are to Premji, will agree that in his own way Rishad will have to earn his spurs. That is what will make his progress within the firm worth watching.

Bibhu Ranjan Mishra