High-tech companies are suffering in India just as they are elsewhere. But no one would guess it by Azim H. Premji's relaxed demeanor. Premji, 55, owns 84% of Bangalore-based Wipro Ltd. (WIT), one of India's premier software companies. Its engineers write and develop software for multinationals such as Nokia (NOK), NEC (NIPNY), Cisco Systems (CSCO), and Sun Microsystems (SUNW).
The high-tech stock sell-off has slammed Wipro as hard as any company in Silicon Valley. Since February, 2000, Premji's net worth has plummeted from $40 billion--which made him one of the richest men in the world--to $6.5 billion. Yet Premji is unfazed, claiming he cares little about stock market fluctuations or personal wealth. He is well known for staying in midpriced hotels and for owning an ordinary Ford sedan.
Wipro's chairman reasons that "a time of stress is always a good time for companies to become more efficient." So he is streamlining his already lean organization. Wipro's prices are now marginally lower than those of competitors such as Infosys and Sapient, which helps it retain clients in hard times. Wipro's sales totaled $660 million for the year ended in March, and the company expects revenues to grow by some 50% in the current fiscal year--far less than its usual 100% annual growth but still way ahead of rivals. It helps that Wipro has diversified. Half its revenues come from research and development for clients such as Alcatel and General Electric. Wipro is also the leader in India in installing servers and routers from Sun and Cisco.
Premji achieved fame by tilting an Old Economy company toward high tech. In his case, it was an edible-oils business that Premji, a Stanford University grad, inherited at age 21 when his father died of a heart attack. He is a hands-on manager, spending a third of his time on sales calls. "It helps in getting big business drawn in," he says of the visits. And it shows employees how this pioneer forges ahead.