INDIA’S BILL GATES
If you were the richest man in India, what kind of car would you buy?
Wipro Ltd. Chairman Azim Premji is the richest man in India—worth something over $8 billion—so there was some interest in what Premji would do when he recen -tly gave up his 1996 Ford Escort after 87,000 miles on India’s potholed roads. His new car: a Toyota Corolla.
That choice might produce chuckles if it were done in the conspicuous-consumption world of American CEOs, but it is right in character for the man who turned an inherited cooking-oil business into a global powerhouse. Premji, 59, travels for business three weeks a month but has no company jet. He flies commercial— coach for domestic, business class for international. (Premji, who is Muslim, says without complaint that he has been subjected to extra scrutiny by U.S. airport security.) His elegantly minimalist office, just steps from a pleasant rooftop garden, is uncluttered, without even a desktop computer—he prefers thin, light laptops. If this all seems a bit understated, well, Premji is inclined to critique the manner of America’s corporate celebrities. “You glorify your CE’Os,” he says. “The are like kings.”
Premji’s Spartan style and promotion of high ethical standards infuse the Wipro culture, and he seems untroubled if his outsourcing stance makes him a controversial figure. He offers the economic argument that the United States benefits in efficiency and competitiveness when some jobs shift to lower-cost countries. At the same time, he is proud that Wipro and its counterparts are boosting India’s economy.
His success is something of a legend in India . When his father died in 1966, Premji, then a 21-year-old Stanford University senior was called home to run the $2 million family business, Western India Vegetable Products, or Wipro. In the late 1970s, when then dominant IBM got caught up in a dispute with the Indian government, he diversified into computing and in the past decade transformed a once unremarkable conglomerate into a leading global provider of high-tech services as the outsourcing wave gathered speed.
Premji, who owns 84 per cent of Wipro, ranks No. 38 on Forbes magazine’s list of
the world’s richest people. His private foundation, funded with at least $45 million
in Wipro stock, supports projects to improve India’s underfunded rural schools.
But for all his success, there remained an unfinished chapter in his life. So in 2000,
at age 55, he completed his senior dissertation and was awarded his B.S. in electrical engineering from Stanford. University.
U. S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT
May 2, 2005. (Pg. 52)
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