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Last Updated : Jun 10, 2019 02:20 PM IST | Source:

A look at attributes which made Azim Premji stand out as a leader

As a leader, Azim Premji has always been a great role model for professionals. His rigour, detail orientation, precise questioning and the ability to take on difficult issues head on have always helped many professional managers blossom.

Moneycontrol Contributor @moneycontrolcom
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Todays L/H

Krishnakumar Natarajan

In 1981, I was called for a final interview at Bangalore by Western India Vegetable Products. Working in an established IT firm after B-school, I had no reason to change but a trip to Bangalore was tempting.

Soon I was in a room along with GM-HR/ GM -IT Division and the Chairman of the company who was introduced as Mr Azim Premji (AHP). After the initial questions, the discussions were around the case study (Bharat Foods), which I had been given to read before the meeting. AHP asked some probing questions, disagreed on some of my observations and more that listened intently and made copious notes. I did not realise that I had spent close to 2.5 hours in an interview to select a campus recruit. This was my first lesson in management that identifying right talent was key, every position in an early stage company was important and the rigour and detail orientation which you bring in is important.


Building next level leadership was an important priority for AHP and he brought in several global thinkers like CK Prahalad to help the Wipro leadership grow and think differently. In one of those sessions, I was part of the team which won the competition. For the winning team there was a small gift- a book and a letter. But what was different was that the salutation of the letter was personally handwritten by AHP and the book had his wishes again with his handwriting. This was my second lesson that building next generation leaders was the responsibility of top management. Also, irrespective of your level you can do small gestures which make it special for individuals.

As a leader AHP has always been a great role model for professionals. His rigour, detail orientation, precise questioning and the ability to take on difficult issues head on have always helped many professional managers blossom.

As an entrepreneur, he has demonstrated that you can build a sustainable high-quality business with integrity, transparency and impeccable governance. Simple principles which he professes like- “Always do what is right and not what is convenient” or “Before you take any action, think will it stand public scrutiny” have helped entrepreneurs like me to create organizations built on integrity, transparency and high-quality governance.

For a relatively new entrant like me into the social initiatives space, his approach to philanthropy has been like a breadth of fresh air. In a low-key manner, he has committed enormous resources to finding solutions to difficult social problems and the progress he has demonstrated in “Primary” education over the last 15 years will easily rank as amongst the best across the globe on sustainable social change.

While a lot has been written about his business/ societal contributions, not much is written about AHP as a person. At best people classify him as an aloof, introverted person.

I had the wonderful opportunity to interact more closely with him as Head of HR for the IT group of Wipro and several times found that beneath the tough exterior was a genuinely warm person with a sense of humour. But a straight shooter. What you see in what you get.

AHP's contribution in building Wipro and its global stature gets attention. But his contribution to raising the aspiration of Indian Industry and building many next generation leaders and enterprises needs to be recognised and applauded.

His significant contribution to raising the "moral" quotient of the Indian industry needs to be celebrated.

AHP has been a torch bearer in raising awareness and action orientation in solving complex social problems. Hopefully with his full focus in that area, we will see many more social problems being addressed. It will also help raise the aspirations of private enterprises and leaders to address some of these issues and potentially create a more equitable society.

(The author is co-founder, Mindtree)

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First Published on Jun 10, 2019 02:20 pm
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