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Azim Premji Hangs Up His Boots: A Look Back at the Journey of India's IT Czar

Azim Premji’s role has been pivotal in guiding the company through four decades of diversification and growth to emerge as one of the world leaders in the information technology (IT) industry.

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Updated:June 7, 2019, 10:53 AM IST
Azim Premji Hangs Up His Boots: A Look Back at the Journey of India's IT Czar
File photo of Wipro chairman Azim Premji. (Reuters)

Azim Premji announced on Thursday that he would retire as executive chairman and managing director (MD) of Wipro by the end of July after having led the company for 53 years. Premji’s role has been pivotal in guiding the company through four decades of diversification and growth to emerge as one of the world leaders in the information technology (IT) industry, earning him the title of India’s IT czar. But more than anything else, he is known as one of the biggest philanthropists India has ever seen. Here’s a look back at his inspiring journey:

Azim Premji, in full Azim Hasham Premji, was born on 24 July 1945 in Bombay (now Mumbai)

In the year that Premji was born, his father founded Western Indian Vegetable Products Ltd which produced vanaspati, widely used hydrogenated oil. Three years later, India was partitioned into mainly Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan, but the Premjis, a Muslim family, chose to remain in India.

In 1966, just before Premji was to complete his degree in engineering at Stanford University, his father died unexpectedly. Postponing his graduation, Azim Premji returned to India to take the reins of the family business

Premji later diversified the company to bakery fats, ethnic ingredient based toiletries, hair care soaps, baby toiletries, lighting products, and hydraulic cylinders.

Then in 1977, Premji renamed the company Wipro and, in 1979, when the Indian government asked IBM to leave the country, he began to steer the company towards computer business.

Wipro established a number of successful international partnerships in the 1980s to help it build computer hardware for sale in India. It was software development, however, that made the firm so lucrative. Wipro concentrated on developing custom software for export, primarily to the US.

Wipro’s value skyrocketed in the late 1990s due to a substantial increase in technology stocks, and Premji became one of the richest entrepreneurs in the world—a position he retained well into the 21st century

In 1999, Premji officially completed his degree from Stanford University through a distance-learning arrangement.

In 2001, he established the non-profit Azim Premji Foundation, through which he aimed to improve the quality of elementary education in rural regions across India. By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the foundation had extended computer-aided education to more than 16,000 schools.

In December 2010, he pledged to donate $2 billion to further his cause of improving school education. This was done by transferring 213 million equity shares of Wipro Ltd, held by a few entities controlled by him, to the Azim Premji Trust. This donation is the largest of its kind in India

In March 2019, Premji pledged an additional 34% of Wipro stock held by him to the foundation. At a current value of about $7.5 billion, this allocation will bring the total endowment from him to the foundation to $21 billion.

He became the first Indian to sign up for The Giving Pledge, a campaign led by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, to encourage the wealthiest people to make a commitment to give most of their wealth to philanthropic causes.

He has twice been listed among the 100 most influential people by TIME Magazine, once in 2004 and more recently in 2011.

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