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Business News/ Companies / News/  Wipro CEO Kurien has no plans of stepping down immediately

Bengaluru: Wipro Ltd said that its 10-month long search for a chief operating officer (COO) should not be seen as succession planning for chief executive officer (CEO) T.K. Kurien, who will stay at least until February 2016, when his five-year contract comes up for renewal.

Significantly, the Bengaluru-based company said the next CEO at Wipro will be “someone from within the company" and that all senior leaders have an equal chance for the top job, seeking to end any talk of Abid Ali Neemuchwala being the CEO-in-waiting.

“Abid has not been appointed as heir-apparent," Kurien said tin a free-wheeling chat, two days after the company anointed former TCS veteran Neemuchwala as its first COO in more than six years.

“Am I running away quickly? The answer is no. I’m not running away in a hurry. (Also) the next CEO of Wipro will come from Wipro. Everyone who reports into me has a fair chance".

Currently, 15 executives report to Kurien, including all the seven business unit heads, and Rishad Premji, head of strategy and son of chairman Azim Premji.

As a part of the biggest management shuffle at Wipro in four years, Rishad Premji’s role has also been expanded, as the company’s chief technology officer (CTO), K.R. Sanjiv, will report to him, Mint learns.

“As head of strategy, he needs to work very closely with the CTO and hence it makes sense," said an executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Wipro is also setting up a panel of 12 leaders, to be headed by Kurien, and which will roll out the roadmap for the company, including the technology needs of the company.

“We think setting a technology roadmap for the organization in the short term has to be done by people meeting and agreeing on how to get things done. It is a little bit of forward-thinking role," said Kurien, who will head this panel.

“Any kind of big tactical changes we make either with regards to technology choices, market choices and personnel changes, will be run by this executive board," he said.

Also on the panel will be Neemuchwala and the company’s three presidents, Anand Padmanabhan, Bhanumurthy B.M. and G. K. Prasanna.

Kurien declined to name the other seven executives on the panel, saying that details will be shared in the coming weeks. An executive familiar with the development said on condition of anonymity that six
business unit heads could be considered for a spot on this panel.

“All I can tell you for now is that the panel will meet at least twice a quarter," said Kurien.

Some experts gave the thumps-up to Wipro setting up the panel, calling it a “savvy move" that would help in faster decision making across different business units and verticals.

“With the evolving reporting structure that’s being implemented with the COO’s appointment, you’ve got a cross-section of operations and vertical heads working together with potentially different perspectives on how to develop and execute on new strategies. An executive panel may serve to referee or buffer the various interests to smooth the way during this transitional period," said Amy McLaughlin, a research analyst at US-based Technology Business Research Inc.

On Monday, in addition to naming a new COO and group president, Wipro also elevated company veterans Bhanumurthy and Prasanna to the rank of president, taking the total number of presidents to three.

Additionally, Wipro also carved out its advanced technology solutions business, by having a single analytics business unit, and split the functions of social, mobility and cloud among its existing service lines.

Some experts remain sceptical about the changes made by Wipro, citing its indifferent performance in recent years relative to that of its peers.

“Yes, it’s okay to say that Kurien can focus now on strategy and innovation. But the big question is that can this new leader (Neemuchwala) really change the operations side. I would have been happy had Kurien done that for that is the role of a CEO. He could not. So let’s see," said a Singapore-based analyst tracking the outsourcing industry who did not want to be named.

To his credit, Kurien has halved the number of executives reporting directly to the CEO from about 30 when he took over as the boss in February 2011, thereby trimming the hierarchy.

But in the last four years, the company has lagged its peers: Wipro’s revenue grew 6.4% in 2013-14 and 5% in 2012-13 while Infosys grew 15% and 4% during those periods, respectively.

For now, Wipro remains hopeful that with this new management reshuffle, the company will be able to overcome its limitation of getting more business from existing customers, which has led to anaemic growth in the last few years.

Experts believe that the delivery side of the company’s business has not been able to match up to the solutions the customers need, thereby limiting the company’s growth.

Kurien believes this can change with the coming of Neemuchwala, who is credited with having doubled revenue at TCS’ back-office division in the six years he headed the vertical. Neemuchwala is also credited with helping TCS win some billion-dollar deals in the past, including a multi-year contract with Nielsen.

“The single biggest quality of Abid is execution. We wanted someone who could challenge the existing dogmas that sit in the enterprise. Within an enterprise you typically don’t question things which have been done for many years. We wanted a little bit of external challenge the way we have worked," said Kurien.

Understandably, some experts liken Wipro’s decision to bring an outsider in as COO to cross city rival Infosys appointing Vishal Sikka as the first non-founder CEO of the company last summer.

“This move follows in the footsteps of Infosys, which similarly brought in outside leadership," said Peter Bendor-Samuel, founder and CEO of Everest Group.

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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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Updated: 19 Mar 2015, 12:32 AM IST
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