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The Wipro I knew!

By | Dr Pavan Soni | IIM-B Innovation Evangelist

There are a few moments in one’s life that are not just career defining, but also life defining. One such moment for me was when I joined Wipro in June of 2005. I have had some of the most wonderful memories in my life from the ‘institution’, and anybody who has come across me speaking knows how much I owe it to Wipro. In fact, I am one of the most ardant (unpaid) evangelists of Wipro. There are so many wonderful people that I have met at the institution (not an organization or a company, for me) that they have shaped my thinking in a very subsconscious and an enduring manner.

However, on most occasions that I meet a former Wiproite, especially those who were at the leadership positions, I get to hear one statement most often- ‘ Wipro isn’t the same anymore’.

Being a child of the institution, it pains me more than it upsets me. For many, it might be a practice to leave behind the good and the not so good memories while quitting an organization, but for me, Wipro remains deep in my conscious, through my conversations, presentations, and research.

While the spotlight, of late, has been on Wipro’s competitor from across the city- Infosys- the company hasn’t had the best time either. If retaining and nurturing talent is one of the cornerstones of a great organization, Wipro hasn’t done particularly well, either.

I remember that in my days, at Wipro, the culture stood for operational autonomy and financial discipline.

I am not sure if that is the case any more, especially the part of Operational Autonomy!

If you look around in the IT services industry, you would witness a whole host of former Wiproites occupying senior positions, including heads of mid-sized IT firms, amongst others. If the company remains such a great place to work, why couldn’t it retain its talent?

On the regular exodus of senior leaders from the firm, Mr. Azim Premji once noted (courtesy- Indian Express, September 2000)

“We do not see anything wrong in this. On the contrary, we take pride in having created so many chief executives for the industry. The depth of Wipro’s managerial talent is best seen by the fact that for almost all our senior positions we are able to come up with succession from within.”

While the company stood for a place to harbour great leaders and even supply those as managers and entrepreneurs to the economy, perhaps the company has lost out in the bargain. How else could one explain the moderate growth of Wipro and the somber sentiments of the former Wiproites?

A company which was a pioneer in the R&D outsourcing model through its ‘Lab on Hire’ in early 90s, the Centers of Excellence, its legacy in systems engineering, its robust innovation management process, and its measures on sustainability- where did it slip? Shouldn’t Wipro, with its rich heritage (which most are proud of as against its current state), be the leader?

Where did the ball get dropped?

In my humble opinion, the tipping point (downwards) was when the company and its leadership decided to trade for Scale at the cost of Complexity!

Complexity and scale can’t co-exist. Complexity calls for a deep level of expertise on select few areas, long turn-around times and an ability to embrace uncertainty, whereas Scale calls for predictability and immediate gratification.

Almost all the stalwarts whom I met, and interviewed as a part of my thesis, narrated the stories of managing complex projects, some, for the very first time in the industry. Whether it was the embedded systems, or telecom, or intellectual property driven products, there was a sense of pride in solving complex problems which was way beyond the rank and file.

But when the focus, thanks to the stock-market and peer pressure, shift towards achieving scale, complexity is avoided, or pushed back. The original DNA (may be a strong word here), which was meant to solve unique problem got mutated (or mutilated) into performing repetitive tasks, at an ever increasing scale and lowering cost. This served well, for the average salaries went up, and so did the wealth of the investors. But the ones who loved the complexity soon developed distaste and walked out.

On the hindsight, it looks like Wipro had a choice. May be the leaders didn’t have a choice but to move away from complexity towards scale. But that’s where the company fell short of being an icon, a legend, once again.

I would love to see Wipro leading the way, and not being in the pack. Being small, yet unique. And I hope that every alum of the institution can draw pride and satisfaction from the Wipro of today and not what they knew of.

I believe that the Wipro I knew is outshined by the Wipro most of you know as!

Republished with permission and originally published at Dr. Pavan Soni’s LinkedIn

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