Within nine months of his joining Wipro as its chief operating officer, Abidali Neemuchwala is being elevated for the top job. He takes over as chief executive from February 1, at a time it lags peers Infosys, Cognizant and TCS. The biggest challenge, he tells Alnoor Peermohamed & Raghu Krishnan, is to rally people and work on a unified cause, for which he has taken steps to disrupt the way people work. Edited excerpts:
Tell us your strategy for Wipro in the coming years.
When I came in as COO nine months before, I had a certain perception of Wipro's strengths and I think these are more than what is known outside. This is good news. The strength of our engineering services business, for instance, is not as well known as it should be. We did the Infocrossing acquisition a few years before and the cloud capability we’re able to provide on that, most of our India peers don’t have it. These are some of the unique strengths Wipro has and we’re able to differentiate on that.
We have launched integrated solutions. We’ve created a group that will be completely focused on offering solutions, creating intellectual property, doing engineering for Wipro products — that’s going to be a big deal for us. Technology products, domain products that various SBUs (strategic business units or profit centres) and verticals want to create, utility services that we want to create platforms, to provide platform as a service or business process as a service.
Wipro has been seen as a laggard, compared to peers. When will we see the company showing industry-growth numbers?
There are some things you have to do as part of the strategy and execution of the strategy, and there are some things where we were in a bad place at a bad time. Like, energy and utilities. It’s a combination of both, so it will take a few quarters.
I am not brand new in the company. My agenda as COO is to drive growth, drive operational efficiencies, satisfy customers and energise employees. I’ve been doing that and I don’t have to do anything brand new as I get into the CEO role. We have identified specific initiatives and leaders who are driving those initiatives, both from within the company and outside. And, that team has been delivering. For example, what GK Prasanna (president, global infrastructure business) is going to do now in the MIT unit is exactly that.
What is the biggest challenge you face as you attempt to do that?
To rally people. Everybody has to have the same sense of purpose of what we’re trying to do. The biggest struggles are in the human mind, like what Churchill said -- “all the wars are won in the human mind”. I don’t want to underestimate that; it’s 160,000 people in 90 different countries. Second, we have a huge legacy, we’re a 45-year-old company, so we have habits that are 45 years old.
I talked about diversity, diversity of thought. The only way you bring this in is by making people a little uncomfortable. You know, if you’re in that same group, that same gang, it becomes like a hostel. If you bring in a little fresh thinking, fresh blood, diversity, then you start thinking, oh! this is a different way of doing it.
How do you do that? Changing people is a tough task.
I’ve been engaged in change management and engagement for a while. There are tools, techniques, interventions you use. The next-gen delivery initiative that we did hyper automation (of) is a very good example of that.
People were worried at first that if we release people, what will happen to them? Now, everyone is wanting to get released because they’re getting trained in digital. So, at first there was resistance but now everyone wants to get released, so it’s a part of change management; that’s how it happens. As you rightly said, I wouldn’t underestimate the task but I don’t think it is not doable. Finally, human beings are the most evolved; that’s why we’re the most intelligent species.
Does Abid being based out of the US help drive this change?
When you look at it from a cultural or behavioural perspective, speed is required, relevance to customer is required. If you’re in your biggest market, your ability to understand what your customer wants becomes highest. Rather, I’m talking about empowering the front line.
If the CEO himself is on the front line, it’s like the general in the arms. You meet army people and they will tell you, the general has to know what is going on in the battlefield. The general can’t sit in the headquarters. I think it’s a huge advantage and, also, today we’re a global company.
What is the future like, with cloud and artificial intelligence coming?
Every company will have robotics and artificial intelligence, as much in our own business. It is like when 30-40 years back when computers came in, a lot of clerical jobs got taken over, they got automated. Now, it is moving to more intelligent stuff, which is what artificial intelligence is.
I think we’ve got a very good product in Wipro HOLMES. We’ve got an R&D team that continuously keeps upgrading it. We’ve also got some very good use cases. Now, we’re already doing 12 projects; last quarter, it was seven projects. Customers want to do some pilots and understand what is in it for them. We’ve got one successful production going on now for a large global bank in the Know Your Customer space.
It’s not only in the technology space that we can provide solutions. It’s also in the manufacturing sector. The internet of things or the internet of everything - there’s so many sensors and there’s so much data that you can digest and get intelligence out of, and there are lots of applications, and we’re engaged with several customers.
We have a unique strength on top of it, which is design, because we did an acquisition of DesignIT.
With people talking about another global meltdown, what is the change you see?
I don’t foresee a slowing in the global economy because there are some pockets in the markets. The great thing about our business model is we help customers cut costs and we help customers that want to grow, so we can accelerate the core or we can own the future.