Listed among the top 30 Entrepreneurs, visionary, one of the top businessmen in the country, Azim Premji has been given many titles. Read how this man literally tapped the software industry and turned a $2 million hydrogenated cooking fat company to a $5 billion revenue IT, BPO and R&D Services organization with its presence in over 50 countries.
In 1966, Azim was still an undergraduate Engineering student at Stanford University when his father passed away and had to immediately return back to India to take up the reins of his novice family business.
But it wasn’t a smooth transition and he had to suffer lack of confidence by the other board members of the company. At the first annual general meeting of the company attended by Azim Premji, a shareholder doubted Premji’s ability to handle business at such a young age and publicly advised him to sell his shareholding and give it to a more mature management. This spurred Azim Premji and made him all the more determined to make Wipro a success story. And the rest is history.
When Azim Premji occupied the hot seat, Wipro dealt in hydrogenated cooking fats and later diversified to bakery fats, ethnic ingredient based toiletries, hair care soaps, baby toiletries, lighting products and hydraulic cylinders. Under Premji’s leadership Wipro embarked on an ambitious phase of expansion and diversification. The Company began manufacturing light bulbs with General Electric and other consumer products including soaps, baby care products, shampoos, powder etc. In 1975, Wipro Fluid Power business unit manufacturing hydraulic cylinders and truck tippers was started. Thereafter Premji made a focused shift from soaps to software.
In the 1980s Wipro entered the IT field, taking advantage of the expulsion of IBM from the Indian market in 1975. Thus, Wipro became involved in manufacturing computer hardware, software development and related items, under a special license from Sentinel. As a result, the $1.5 million company in hydrogenated cooking fats grew within a few years to a $662 million diversified, integrated corporation in services, medical systems, technology products and consumer items with offices worldwide.
The company’s IT division became the world’s first to win SEI CMM level 5 and PCMM Level 5 (People Capability Maturity Model) certification, the latest in quality standards. A large percentage of the company’s revenues are generated by the IT division. Wipro works with leading global companies, such as Alcatel, Nokia, Cisco and Nortel and has a joint venture in Medical Systems with General Electric company.
Premji’s story of success and prominence clearly shows how determination and perseverance, when coupled with knowledge, clear vision and proper planning, enable one to reach the peak of success and leadership. A straight forward person, he doesn’t believe in resorting to bribery or corruption to get things done and associates quality with integrity. He is an absolute workaholic and according to him work is the only way to success and survival in a competitive environment. A tough employer, he expects his employees to be competent and will not tolerate lies or deception from anyone.
Azim Premji’s 8 steps to Excellence
1. Create an obsession with excellence
We must dream of it not only because it delivers better results but because we truly believe in it and find it intrinsically satisfying to us.
We must think of excellence not only with our mind but also with our heart and soul. Let us look outside, at the global standards of excellence in quality, cost and delivery and let us not rest till we surpass them.
2. Build a collective self-confidence
Organizations and people who pursue excellence are self-confident. This is because excellence requires tremendous faith in one’s ability to do more and in a better way. Unless, we believe we can do better, we cannot.
3. Understand the difference between perfection and excellence
Time is of essence. Globalization has made the customer only more impatient. This may seem like a paradox: should we aim for excellence or should we aim for speed?
Excellence is about doing the best we can and speed lies in doing it quickly. These two concepts are not opposed to each other; in fact, speed and timeliness are important elements of quality and excellence.
4. Realize that we cannot be the best in everything we do
We must define what we are or would like to be best at and what someone else can do better. Excellence is no longer about being the best in India. It is about being the best in the world. We have to define what our own core competencies are and what we can outsource to other leaders. Headaches shared are headaches divided.
5. Create processes that enable excellence
Today, there are a number of global methods and processes available whether it is Six Sigma, CMM or ISO. Use them because they are based on distilled wisdom collected from the best companies in the world.
Also, we must build a strong foundation of information technology, because in this complex, dynamic world, it is imperative that we use the most modern tools to keep processes updated.
6. Create a culture of teaming
I have found that while great individuals are important, one cannot have pockets of excellence. Quality gives ample opportunities to build a culture of teaming. Cross-functional teams that are customer facing can cut through an amazing amount of bureaucracy, personal empire building and silos and deliver savings that one would not have imagined possible.
The other advantage of building teams focused on quality is that the teaming culture eventually spreads to the rest of the organization and teaming becomes a way of life.
7. Invest in excellence for the future
Future always seems to be at a distance. But it comes upon you so suddenly that it catches you by surprise, if not shock. What constitutes excellence in the future will be significantly different from what it is today.
In these days of severe market pressures, there is big temptation to sacrifice the future to look good in the present. We must certainly trim our discretionary expenses, but we must ensure that our investments in strategic areas that lead to excellence in the future are protected.
8. Excellence requires humility
This is especially needed when we feel we have reached the peak of excellence and there is nothing further we can do. We need an open mind to look at things in a different way and allow new inputs to come in.