Rishad Premji: A quiet doer

April 26, 2015 11:55 pm | Updated 11:55 pm IST

Rishad Premji

Rishad Premji

PROFILE: Rishad Premji

When last week India’s third largest IT services firm Wipro announced the induction of Rishad Premji, 38, to its board, it understandably led to market talk about him now being just a step away from the top post. The question whether he will some day take over the reins of Wipro, which his father Azim Premji started in the early 1980s, has been endlessly speculated about since he joined the company eight years back.

Wipro CEO T. K. Kurien played down the speculations, saying there is nothing more to be read into the move except that Mr. Rishad is there to represent shareholders’ interest. The elder Mr. Premji had maintained in media interviews a few years back that Mr. Rishad would never be the CEO.

For those who know Mr. Rishad, however, it is less about the inclusion of a family member on board, but more a natural progression of a young corporate leader. “He is a bright person, understands business well and also is quick and capable to get people together on certain things and execute it,” a former senior executive of the company had said.

Mr. Rishad, whose elevation was anticipated after the vacancy created by the retirement of CFO Suresh Senapaty, will join the board effective May 1.

A graduate in economics from Wesleyan University and an alumnus of Harvard Business School, where he completed his MBA, Mr. Rishad’s first career step was not at Wipro. He worked with Bain & Co. for two years, across multiple industries including consumer products, automobiles, telecom and insurance. He then worked for four years with GE Capital in the U.S. across several businesses.

When he did decide to attend an interview at Wipro, by the then CEO Girish Paranjpe, it was a conscious move of an expatriate who loves his movies and cricket to end 12 years of life abroad. His entry into Wipro was not privileged — he joined it as a manager in the business of banking, financial services and insurance.

In his eight years at Wipro till now, he has maintained a low profile and shunned the limelight even as he has increasingly handled weightier roles. A person, who knows him closely and has worked with him, said: “He works like any other Wipro-ite. He is not much (of) a talker, and is very humble and disciplined. He listens to all and believes in action.”

In fact, Ashok S. Ganguly, Independent Director and Chairman, board governance and nomination committee, Wipro, had said, “These past eight years have given Mr. Rishad an in-depth view of the organisation and makes him well positioned to guide Wipro, and carry the mantle of ownership in the years ahead.”

At Wipro, he has covered diverse functions including consulting, investor relations and merger and acquisitions. It was Mr. Rishad who spearheaded the integration of Citi Technology Services following Wipro’s acquisition of the Citibank captive business.

As Chief Strategy Officer, Mr. Rishad runs strategy and mergers and acquisitions in addition to overseeing the technology office, investor and government relations.

He took charge of strategy when the company ended its joint-CEO model in 2011 and appointed Mr. T. K. Kurien as CEO. One of the major changes the company underwent in 2011 was the shift to a single axis — where it started focusing only on verticals instead of looking at verticals, service lines and geographies.

He was also the person behind setting up of the venture capital fund — Wipro Ventures. With a corpus of $100 million, the fund is seeking to invest in the field of mobility, automation and machine-to-machine communications. He also appointed Intel Capital’s Venu Pemmaraju and Biplab Adhya to lead it. Wipro Ventures recently made its first investment by picking stake in the U.S.-based consulting firm Drivestream for $5million. The VC fund is considered a key initiative of Mr. Rishad.

Mr. Rishad is already part of the boards of Wipro Enterprises Ltd., an unlisted group entity, and Wipro-GE, a healthcare joint venture between Wipro and General Electric. 

The move to elevate him comes at a time when the IT industry is trying to make sense of disruptive technologies such as cloud computing. Wipro is also trying to focus on what is dubbed as SMAC — social, mobile, analytics and cloud — to stay relevant in the digital age. Crucially, as Chief Strategy Officer and board member, Mr. Rishad is also a part of a newly-formed executive committee that defines strategy and translates it into an effective business plan.

With all that, there is no need to speculate whether his role at Wipro will be more crucial than ever. It sure will be.


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