Bangalore: Premji asks Premji a question on succession planning and the answer is, er, vintage Premji: “...in terms of our succession planning is that every position we have to have at least three successors to that position—one on immediacy basis, one within one-two years and one within two-four years. And we get into a lot of depth vis-a-vis the track record of candidates with respect to the candidates put up for succession. And this applies to my position too.”
This, and not the numbers, is probably the highlight of the latest annual report of Wipro Ltd. If the report is any indication, then, three years after he joined the company, Rishad Premji, 33, the elder son of Azim Premji, 64, the chairman and single largest shareholder in the firm, is slowly but surely coming into his own.
Rishad Premji is currently a general manager in Wipro’s investor relations division and reports to Rajendra Kumar Shreemal, who heads the function. The annual report for fiscal 2010 of Wipro carries an interview of Azim Premji conducted by Rishad Premji and Shreemal. It is accompanied by a photograph of the two interviewing the chairman.
If Mint is making much of this, it is because Wipro has usually?been?reluctant to showcase Rishad Premji. The chorus of choice used to be that he was just another employee working in a position and a level that befits someone of his qualification and experience.
Larger role: Rishad Premji, the elder son of Wipro’s Azim Premji. He is currently a general manager at the firm’s investor relations division.
The company played down Rishad Premji’s appearance in the annual report too. “The chairman has repeatedly reiterated that ownership and management are two separate things. Like any other position, we have succession planning in place for everybody, including that of the chairman,” said Pratik Kumar, corporate vice-president for human resources at Wipro.
Rishad Premji has an MBA degree from Harvard Business School and joined Wipro on 18 July 2007 in the banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) business after working with GE Capital and Bain and Co. “He was very interested in the security vertical of our BFSI practice and was involved in a couple of key mergers and acquisitions activities, including the acquisition of Gallagher Financial Systems Inc. in the US,” said a senior official of the firm, who did not want to be identified given the way Wipro views succession. The executive added that Rishad Premji’s appearance in the annual report is one way to make him known to the larger shareholder community of the firm.
The biggest shareholder in the company knows Rishad Premji very well indeed; the Premji family owns just under 80% of Wipro. Perhaps because of that, there has always been considerable interest in the careers of Rishad Premji and his younger brother Tariq Premji, who works with Azim Premji’s personal investment firm, PremjiInvest.
“There are two messages here: He needs to show the face of his son, partially first and then fully to his other shareholders and employees. To tell that he is equally competent for a larger role and he is being groomed. And by saying that there is a three-tier succession plan, Premji is also saying that there is equal opportunity for an employee to ascend to the top,” said Sunil Goel, director at GlobalHunt India Pvt. Ltd, a New Delhi-based executive search firm. “That is giving an incentive for executives to perform.”
Graphic: Yogesh Kumar / Mint
A former senior Wipro executive, who used to directly report to Azim Premji (called AHP by insiders), said: “Seriously nobody believes that Rishad is just one more employee. But to his credit Rishad is a chip of the old block, both shrewd and a quick learner. He is being rotated among various divisions of the company so that he will learn the ropes.”
“He (Rishad) is humble and has no sense of entitlement. At some point, Premji will induct him into the board. After AHP, he might become even the non-executive chairman and the company might have a managing director to run the day-to-day operations of the company. What is wrong in AHP wanting to groom his children to take up positions of responsibility?” asked this executive, who now heads another IT services firm and did not want to be named.
Little is known about Rishad Premji, who is married to his childhood sweetheart and has two children.