Wipro founder Azim Premji. (Bloomberg)
Wipro founder Azim Premji. (Bloomberg)

Opinion | Azim Premji, the embodiment of simple living and high thinking

Azim Premji would not ask his team to do anything that he himself would not do

The more I learn about Azim Premji, the more I admire him. Over the past 39 years, I have had the chance to see multiple layers in him unfold one by one. Simplicity is an integral part of his DNA that has remained unchanged from the first day I saw him. His fondness for street food illustrates his preference for functionality over ornamentation. During our roadshow for the New York Stock Exchange listing in 2000, he had no second thoughts about stopping at a street stall in Singapore to have crabs, or, in Mumbai, asking for vada pav when he was asked for his lunch preference at the Morgan Stanley office. Premji is the embodiment of simple living and high thinking.

Over the years, as he grew Wipro’s business from a team of a few hundreds to tens of thousands and lakhs, his work style epitomized his respect for people. He would not ask his team to do anything that he himself would not do. As the then chief financial officer, I saw how diligently he prepared for meetings at close quarters. Once, when we were staying together in his house at Mumbai, at 10pm, he handed over a heavy box file of background papers that he was studying for the meeting the following day. As I took it, he asked me to return it to him at 5 the next morning as he wanted to look at it once more before the meeting. Up before sunrise each day and working till midnight on most days, he set an example for his team to follow. A keen listener who asked insightful questions, he never directed or instructed his team, a manifestation of his deep respect for people.

Premji is not easily influenced by external opinions, irrespective of how loud, frequent, or popular it is. From the time he took over Wipro in the 1960s, he would buy Wipro shares with the Wipro dividend he received every year, until the Securities and Exchange Board of India’s regulation stopped him from doing so in the 1990s. His conviction in Wipro was too strong to even contemplate diversifying his portfolio. A man of deep conviction, Premji does what he believes in. We can see this same conviction when he turned his attention to philanthropy.

Premji is not just a man with a good heart, but a successful businessman engaging in philanthropy. After a year of research, he zeroed in on the idea that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for an hour, but if you teach him fishing, you feed him for a lifetime. This led him to focus on education, more specifically, primary education. To ensure that there is no duplication, he has focused on improving government schools, institutions that touch the largest number of children but will not have his name inscribed in any of them.

In 21st century India, where aspirations run high, role models play a key role in how society evolves. Not just Premji, but his entire family—his wife Yasmeen, children Rishad and Tariq, and daughter-in-law Aditi—need to be admired for this decision. It’s a family epitomizing simple living and high thinking. Premji is not just a role model, but a purushottam, a model human being, worthy of emulation.

Suresh Senapaty is former CFO, Wipro Ltd.