Last month, Suresh Senapaty, perhaps the longest serving senior executive of Wipro, retired from the Bengaluru-based company where he spent nearly 35 years. During his last interaction with the media as the chief financial officer and executive director of Wipro, Senapaty talked of how the company had experimented with the management structure in 2008 when it decided on two chief executives because the top post was transitioning from Azim Premji, who was both chairman and CEO at the time. Since 2011, he pointed out, Wipro has had a single CEO, and last month, another rejig created the post of chief operating officer (COO) to support the CEO.
The continual changes in the top echelons of the company, feel experts, are clearly aimed at finding a stable senior leadership to take Wipro into the future. "Wipro is in the middle of a change in terms of how it delivers services to clients. This reorganisation is a part of that continual transformation," says R "Ray" Wang, principal analyst & founder, Constellation Research. He, like other industry experts, believes that more restructuring is likely.
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Even if the elevation of Premji's elder son, Rishad, to the Wipro board is imminent, industry experts believe that time may be running out for Kurien who has got around a year before his current contract concludes. "If you look back, the tenure of previous CEOs has been in the range of 4 to 5 years each," explains Lakshmikanth. "Also, the company has seen much lower growth in the last four years under Kurien than in the previous three years when the joint CEOs were at the helm. These reflect that his time in the company is perhaps coming to an end."
Chopping and changing
The top rung at Wipro's IT business has never been too stable since the birth of the computer hardware company in 1981. Ashok Narasimhan, who initially started the hardware business, subsequently started Wipro Systems, the software business, but did not stay with the company for long. Ashok Soota who succeeded him left in 1999 to found Mindtree and was replaced by Vivek Paul, who is still considered Wipro's most aggressive CEO ever. Paul left the company in 2005. Premji took over as CEO in addition to his role as chairman for three years before handing over the baton to the joint CEOs.
The current set-up at Wipro that came into effect from April 1 is expected to give the CEO room to focus on executing the company's short-term strategies in addition to setting the tone for future plans. By reducing the number of people who report to him by almost half, this rejig has greatly reduced the burden on Kurien.
"The rationale for a COO lies in supporting the CEO and the management team in determining the optimal strategy for the future and then helping to implement it. Specifically, we are looking at consolidating service lines making it an integrated play, drive focus into under-penetrated and emerging markets, bring in efficiencies in internal business processes apart from enhancing market visibility and brand positioning," the company had said while explaining the role of the new COO.
However, the success of the new leadership model will depend on several factors, including how Wipro manages the incumbent senior team that includes people such as Anand Padmanabhan, chief executive and president of Wipro's energy, natural resources and utilities business unit, who has been a star performer. Under him, the unit, which accounts for over 17 per cent of Wipro's overall revenues, has shown steady growth for many quarters and even clinched its largest ever outsourcing contract of around $1.1 billion with Canadian logistics and utilities firm ATCO.