Image: Nishant RatnakarIn the past, Wipro has perhaps been more inward-looking and operations-focussed, says Chairman Rishad Premji. To help it regain market leadership, new CEO Thierry Delaporte is driving an obsession for customer success and stronger external market orientation. In an interview to Forbes India, Premji further says the company will also prioritise and focus on specific countries, sectors, offerings, and partnerships. Edited excerpts: What have been some of the most fundamental changes in the IT industry, and at Wipro, through the last nine months? How might these changes affect the industry and Wipro in the years to come? The past nine months have seen unprecedented changes in the industry. A big shift is an acceleration in the adoption of technology and its key role in making businesses resilient in the post-Covid world. Many changes related to technology are structural. I believe those are here to stay. At the same time, the pace of transformation has created new opportunities for the industry and Wipro. We already see this all-pervasive impact on the established ways of working across many sectors, whether it is retail, health, insurance or education. We expect that virtual, remote, community-based and distributed work models will become the norm, all powered by collaborative technologies. Enterprises will fundamentally evaluate both their technology capacity and investments so that it enables them to operate with flexibility and agility. They will want to work with partners who can respond and adapt quickly to changing circumstances. At Wipro, we now have a new CEO and MD in Thierry, who I believe is just the right leader in helping us ride the wave of this opportunity. The Board and I are very excited about Thierry and his leadership. He is making some bold changes, driving a more customer-centric and a growth-oriented organisation. You will see a more ambitious Wipro as we move forward. From your vantage point, what do you see as the biggest opportunity for Wipro as the world emerges from the pandemic? Why do you feel Wipro, in particular, is well placed to tap that opportunity? Companies across the world were going through transformations and adopting new ways of working even before the pandemic, but the pace has now accelerated. Technology is at the core of this transformation. Digital transformation is both at the front-end—to gain better access to markets, and at the backend—to improve efficiency and optimise costs. Much of the growth for the industry will be led by next-generation technologies and services. This means digital, cloud, data, engineering, cybersecurity will be the areas where we will see a huge incremental growth. That’s the future, but it is also here and now. From a business perspective, Wipro is ideally placed to leverage and enable these transformations—both with businesses and individuals. Wipro has been investing in these four areas for the last few years, and they are integral to our strategy. This coupled with the changes we are driving to sharpen focus on prioritised markets and sectors, our go-to-market approach, building strategic alliances and investing deeper in business solutions will make us a valuable and trusted partner for our clients. At your recent analyst conference, you acknowledged to feeling a ‘great sense of optimism’ about the new journey that Wipro has started. What drives that optimism? Is there anything you’d like to highlight that could be different this time, compared with Wipro’s previous attempts to accelerate growth? Thierry is driving an obsession for customer success and stronger external market orientation. We have perhaps been more inward-looking, and operations-focussed in the past. This will change. We will drive deep and prioritised focus on countries, industry sectors, offerings, and partnerships. This will require us to call out areas that we will not focus. There will be countries or sectors within countries that we will de-prioritise. Similarly, we will drive deeper investments in chosen areas rather than spreading ourselves thin. A key enabling factor will be a new structure that will be effective on January 1. We believe this operating model makes us agile and nimble in a post-crisis world that will be all about impact at speed. This will become an important differentiator. We will have fewer but relevant and impactful metrics to measure our success. Over the next three years, say, what is your aspiration/vision for Wipro? How would you like your biggest customers to perceive Wipro at that point in the future? What will that Wipro be capable of doing, which it is not doing today? Our customers appreciate our passion for innovation, values, work ethics and culture. They perceive us as a partner who brings deep technology expertise, strong delivery, industry focus and collaborates with them to build business solutions. It is also true that in today’s times, our clients are expecting more from us. They expect us to be more proactive, have strong opinions, challenge the status quo, and be not only the best at execution but also a proactive force of change, a true partner in their transformation. As we move towards our future, our vision for this great company is to be a passionately committed, trusted partner to our clients in their transformation journey, and to help them deepen their leadership in their respective industries. We want to deliver a lasting value to our clients through sector-focussed ‘business solutions’, digital and tech capabilities, cutting-edge innovation leveraging our strategic partnerships and our world-class talent. This vision can be realised only by setting ourselves high benchmarks—we must be a fast-growing, dynamic company that is constantly reinventing itself. We want to be a true global leader in our industry. We want to attract, develop and retain the best talent in our industry. To be able to deliver this ambition, we must play on our strengths—our unique set of values, our commitment to existing partnerships, our passion for technology and innovation. But we must also be ready to make bold changes, challenge our existing strategic focus areas, our approach to growth, our attention to the market and clients, our sectorial ambition, the way we connect technology and business, and finally our obsession for performance and excellence. When and how did Thierry Delaporte first come to your attention as someone who could potentially be the right leader for Wipro at this juncture? You’ve acknowledged to spending a lot of time with him both before and after he joined Wipro—what are the one or two qualities of Thierry you feel might be critical or pivotal to Wipro’s success going forward? We identified Thierry as a part of the formal search process led by the Governance, Nomination and Remuneration Committee. Thierry has an exceptional leadership track record, strong international exposure, deep strategic expertise, and proven experience of driving transformation and managing technological disruption. He is a great listener and has an extraordinary ability to forge successful relationships. Yours is a leading family and business when it comes to philanthropy and you demonstrated that throughout the pandemic as well. What lessons should the world’s wealthiest draw from the pandemic on the power of philanthropy? By the end of March, it was clear that the world was facing an unprecedented crisis. Wipro has always believed that success in business is a must but insufficient; equally we must be engaged and contributing citizens of this world, and that this contribution must be in proportion to what we are. Given the nature of the crisis, we decided to do everything we could. Along with the Foundation (Azim Premji Foundation), we rapidly mobilised a ground-level grassroots team of over 65,000 people covering 400 districts of India. We set up the supply chains, including using Wipro’s infrastructure, to support this ground-level force. As the staggering humanitarian crisis unfolded, we were right out there to help provide the basic necessities. Over 8.4 million people were supported with meals. Unfortunately, while we did everything we could, given the scale of the crisis, we still felt inadequate. Now, over the past four months, another 8 million people in rural areas have been supported to regenerate their livelihoods. The other dimension of our work was supporting the public healthcare response to the pandemic. We converted our Pune facility into a 450-bed Covid hospital—and handed it over to the government, while continuing to support its (non-clinical) operations. But this is just one action we took, the deep sustained effort is our continuing work with multiple state governments to augment the public-health system—from community mobilisation and awareness building, to testing capacity enhancement and tertiary care at ICUs. These efforts are serving about a 100 million people and will continue till the pandemic lasts. I can only say that the pandemic has amplified every inequity and disadvantage that hundreds of millions of our fellow citizens face. Our gaze cannot avert this anymore. It is a challenge to all of us to do a lot more. People have done a lot in the past few months, but it is nowhere near what is required. And even more fundamentally, we need to eliminate the structural causes of these inequities and injustice. We truly need to transform our society.
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