Today, Wipro announced that Azim Hashim Premji will retire as executive chairman from the company and his son Rishad will take over that role. It is truly an end of an era not only for Wipro but for the whole Indian IT industry.
Coming from a middle-class family and converting a vegetable oil company into an IT behemoth is an extraordinary effort reserved for a few talented and gifted individuals. Premji achieved that feat with lots of grace and dignity. Many will remember him for creating a great IT company from scratch to a $25-billion behemoth (in market cap). But, to me, he will be more remembered for his philanthropic contributions and sharing of wealth. By transferring more than ₹50,000 crore to philanthropic activities, he set a huge benchmark for future generations to follow.
I remember Premji visiting Infosys' campus during the mid-’90s and we were on a campus tour. I shook his hands and told him that I will not wash my hand at least for a week as I just shook hands with a billionaire. He felt so embarrassed by that statement that he quickly changed the topic. He lives a very simple life and is easily accessible to all.
His simple lifestyle starting from owning a Toyota Corolla to traveling by autos in Bangalore roads to traveling by economy class on flights were well-known folk stories in the industry. Even though Infosys and Wipro were fierce competitors in the marketplace there was always healthy mutual respect between the companies.
I believe he will be more remembered for his philanthropic work and contribution. With so much inequality in society and at a time when capitalism is looked with more distrust, we need role models like him to make it more acceptable to society. Compassionate capitalism is the need of the hour and he is a living example of that. I hope the young billionaires of the country follow his footstep.
V Balakrishnan is former chief financial officer, Infosys. He is founder and chairman of Exfinity Ventures.