Home / Companies / People /  Abid Ali Neemuchwala named Wipro COO

Bengaluru: Wipro Ltd has named a Tata Consultancy Services Ltd (TCS) veteran as its new chief operating officer (COO) and promoted two of its own executives to the rank of president as part of a management reshuffle under chief executive officer (CEO) T.K. Kurien to help India’s third-largest software services exporter get back to industry-beating growth numbers.

On Monday, Wipro anointed Abid Ali Neemuchwala, former head of the TCS business process outsourcing (BPO) unit, as the new COO and group president, overseeing the six service lines at the company. The appointment would free Kurien to focus on strategy and bigger business initiatives to power future growth.

Neemuchwala will be the first COO at Wipro in more than six years after A.L. Rao retired in 2009. For now, all seven business unit heads, including banking, financial services and insurance boss Shaji Farooq and Rishad Premji, head of strategy and son of chairman Azim Premji, will report to Kurien.

“I can see a COO-CEO structure working well for Wipro in the medium term, which frees TK (Kurien) to focus on acquisitions and strategy, while Abid can focus his operational delivery skill set to improve automation capability, further streamline delivery costs and raise Wipro’s process capability to new levels," said Phil Fersht, CEO of US-based information technology consulting firm HfS Research.

The latest management overhaul at Wipro comes after cross-city rival Infosys Ltd, under new chief executive Vishal Sikka, appointed a new head of delivery, S. Ravi Kumar, with a mandate to oversee six of its service lines. Ravi Kumar reports to U.B. Pravin Rao, COO at Infosys.

“It is probably no coincidence that both Wipro and Infosys continue to play (executive) musical chairs as they aim to catch up with their leading peers," said Thomas Reuner, principal analyst at Ovum, the London-based IT research firm.

“In Wipro’s case the blueprint appears very similar to that of Cognizant. But in order to get closer to the leading pack, the company needs both a compelling vision and an optimized sales engine," he said.

Nasdaq-listed Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp., too, has a CEO-COO structure.

Wipro has also elevated Bhanumurthy B.M., and G.K. Prasanna, two executives who head service lines that together bring in nearly two-thirds of Wipro’s $6.7 billion revenues from IT services, to the rank of president, two executives familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity.

Bhanumurthy and Prasanna will report to Neemuchwala, unlike the head of energy and utilities division, Anand Padmanabhan, who will continue to report to Kurien. Padmanabhan was also made president last year.

Bhanumurthy, currently head of application services and strategic alliances and digital unit, will also be tasked with the additional responsibility of overseeing social and mobility practice, and will share the cloud technology practice with Prasanna, who is head of the infrastructure business at Wipro.

Neemuchwala, who joined TCS in 1992 and resigned from the Mumbai-based company last month, will be based out of Dallas when he starts in his new role from 1 April.

“Abid brings invaluable experience with his track record of building and scaling businesses. I am confident his deep understanding of technology and expertise in all facets of IT & BPS businesses will help power our businesses to greater heights," said Kurien.

Since Kurien took over the helm in February 2011, Wipro has grappled with dismal growth numbers, with its revenue growing 6.4% in 2013-14 and 5% in 2012-13. Larger rival Infosys grew 15% and 4% during those periods, respectively.

For this reason, one executive familiar with the decision making said: “Operations suck in a lot of bandwidth. So having someone shoulder the responsibility helps TK to focus on growth."

Still, some analysts remain sceptical as to whether this effort by Wipro will help change the fortunes of the company.

“Kurien to focus on strategy and innovation—sounds good in theory. But what does it mean for the operations? The role of the CEO should be to transform the entire organization, looking at both traditional activities and new activities. I do not see how this ultimate move will be able to bring back investor confidence," said a Singapore-based analyst tracking the outsourcing industry who did not want to be named.

Additionally, Wipro is carving out social, mobility and cloud practices from its year-old advanced technologies solutions, or ATS, unit as the company believes increased client spending in these areas merits a more focused approach.

“Wipro will create a new analytics business unit effective April 1, replacing the Advanced Technologies & Solutions service-line, as it exists today. This new business will address all aspects of AI, Machine Learning Advanced Analytics, Data and Information management and Big Data platforms," said Jeff Heenan-Jalil, senior vice-president and global head of Wipro Analytics.

“As a consequence, Cloud, Microsoft and elements of the Mobility practices will be moved into Wipro’s technology service-lines focusing on Application and Infrastructure Management where they will adopt and apply the same strategies to scale," Heenan-Jalil said.

Nonetheless, Wipro’s decision to separate its social, mobility and cloud practice also reflects its desire to strengthen its position in the digital space, according to the two executives familiar with the development cited earlier.

Kurien has set an ambitious target to build Wipro Digital into one of the three largest service lines for the company in three years, these people said.

For now, business applications services brings in about a third of Wipro’s revenues while infrastructure services account for 27.3% and application development maintenance generates 16%.

“A year back, most of the deals were between $1-2 million. But now we are already seeing deals over $8-10 million and some of them are even bigger multi-year ones," said one of the two executive, explaining the rationale for the country’s third largest software services exporter to undertake this split.

Wipro’s decision to split ATS, which accounts for little over 11% of total revenues, underscores the trend of a large client spending being witnessed in these areas. For now, about 80% of nearly $750 million brought in by ATS is from Big Data and analytics and for this reason Wipro wants Heenan-Jalil, who is also a board member at Opera Solutions, the US-based data analytics start-up in which Wipro has a minority stake, to lead the business, said the second executive.

Heenan-Jalil said that the company has outlined plans to train about 15,000 people in analytics, but declined to put a timeline for the target to be met.


Varun Sood

Varun Sood is a business journalist writing on corporate affairs for the last fifteen years. He also writes a weekly newsletter, TWICH+ on the largest technology services companies. He is based in Bangalore. Varun's first book, Azim Premji: The Man Beyond the Billions, was brought out by HarperCollins in October 2020.
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