Monday, 22 June 2009

Tales of two Indians

(By Anthony Miller – Monday 22nd June 2009 9:00am). A couple of news items on two India-based players came to our attention over the weekend.

First, those of you interested in a brief hagiography of Wipro chairman, Azim Premji, need look no further than yesterday’s Sunday Times. There’s no doubting Premji’s philanthropy – and long may it last – but I have frequently called into question the authoritarian grip he maintains over the company his father founded back in 1947, originally as a vegetable oil trading company. Premji still holds nearly 80% of Wipro’s stock.

I recall a Wipro equity analyst meeting a couple of years back in Mumbai, where the entire Wipro top management team were paraded on stage for the Q&A session headed by Premji. I asked Premji what differences he expected to see in Wipro in 2010 compared to the way it looked ‘today’ (Feb. ’07). His answer was in three parts (the ST journo commented on his enumerative responses too!): (1) a more global staff mix; (2) consulting will drive growth; (3) more ambitious top management.

Premji said this latter point straight-faced, eliciting looks of surprise and bemusement from his direct reports sitting with him on the podium. Since then, many of them have left the company to pursue their own career advancement (including Sudip Bannerjee, now CEO of L&T Infotech – see Ex-Wipro exec resurfaces at L&T Infotech) as it was pretty clear that unless your surname is Premji, you are never going to run the company (Premji’s son is coming up the ranks).

By the way, Wipro’s margins still lag archrivals TCS and Infosys by 5-10 percentage points, and the proportion of its business from consulting and enterprise application services is around half that of major peers (TechMarketView subscription service clients can see this and more in our latest OffshoreViews report just published last week). Premji is doing good works for the Indian nation – but is he doing enough ‘good works’ for Wipro?

And we bring you news that Tech Mahindra has rebranded Satyam as “Mahindra Satyam” and issued a new set of five 'Core Values' for the company. These were all terribly righteous, notably the Good Corporate Citizenship ‘value’, which promised they would seek success “without compromising ethical business standards”. I guess that means “we promise not to cook the books”.

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