‘We did not think Wipro would get this big’

Venkatesh Ganesh Bengaluru | Updated on January 24, 2018


Wipro’s outgoing CFO Suresh Senapaty looks back at three-and-a-half decades in the group

Suresh Senapaty, the outgoing CFO of Wipro, has marshalled the company from ₹43 crore in sales when he joined it in 1980 to ₹50,000 crore today, an achievement that few in Indian business can surpass.

Among other things, he played a big role in getting the company listed on the NYSE (in 2000), in corporate restructuring, in the employee buyout of its peripherals business (PCs, laptops etc.), as well as in acquisitions in both the IT and non-IT businesses.

Senapaty, who is seen within Wipro as the glue that has held the company together all these years, spoke to BusinessLine about his journey. He touched on the way Indian outsourcing will evolve, on some disappointments and his future plans. Edited excerpts:

What was it like when you walked into Wipro?

I walked into Wipro to meet a mentor of mine, to tell him that I had an offer from another company abroad. He told me why are you looking at something abroad when there is an opportunity here. Then, I was grilled by a 35-year-old manager for six hours and I enjoyed it as it was all in my sphere. That’s how I got started.

Listing on the NYSE in 2000 was a significant milestone. Why did it take a few more years after Infosys?

For us, listing was not about raising capital. We wanted to be debt free when we listed and that happened in 2000.

Back then did you envisage Wipro becoming the force it is today?

When we started out we did not expect Wipro would be this big. But as the journey progressed — from the days when we were only into consumer care to the IT foray — we started to realise how we could make an impact.

Also, a lot of it has to do with being in the right place at the right time.

We were the first to bet on BPO and we acquired Spectramind at a time when others were thinking about whether to get into this segment. Putting in lean management practices (Six Sigma) in an IT company was another achievement.

Also, since I was in Wipro, I have had the fortune of having good bosses. Having to report to Azim Premji for 20 years has taught me a lot of things.

What were the things that you learnt from Premji?

Premji has a simple motto — work hard and work harder. Jokes apart, if there is one thing I used to lose sleep over it had to do with him calling up in the morning and giving me a earful with regard to anything that concerned integrity and ethics in company matters.

Then there was professionalism; if we had to recommend three people in a five-member team for promotions, he would not take our word.

He would always ask us about the two that were not recommended. In meetings, he would always listen to people and would also be the first guy to point out mistakes. He is more sincere and hard working than all of us and would never hesitate to meet clients or talented employees.

Then there is his ability to take calculated risks and look beyond the obvious.

What is your management style?

(Laughs) I have evolved over the years. From 1980-92, I had an attitude of my way or the highway! I guess in the consumer business at that time that kind of approach was needed. When I was given leadership responsibilities in the IT business, I was working with Ashok Soota, who was a people person and collaborative in nature. I also learnt to argue and defend my turf.

Any regrets?

Without regrets, I believe that you can’t enjoy success. There have been a few. For example, we failed in our finance venture (in the late 90s).

Similarly, some partnerships went sour, which made us feel bad, but we moved on.

You have seen the evolution of IT services over this long span. Do you think this non-linear model is sustainable?

That is the way forward. It is also a function of maturing of technology, which is moving from plain vanilla implementation to the impact it can have on a business function.

Any plans to invest in start-ups, going forward?

I do not plan much but as and when opportunity arises, I will take it up.

Published on March 30, 2015

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