The upbeat mood at Wipro, India’s third-largest IT services exporter, is hard to miss after it posted healthy growth for two consecutive quarters in FY14 and issued strong revenue guidance for the next three months. In an interview with PP Thimmaya and Debojyoti Ghosh, Wipro CEO TK Kurien says the company has enhanced its execution ability over time and now plans to move more of its top talent to the markets they serve so that they face customers directly and keep the momentum going. Excerpts:
What do you think of the overall macro environment?
It is fairly positive. Discretionary spending in industries like hi-tech is coming back. Typically, what we see is that once the US starts picking up, two quarters later the UK picks up and then continental Europe follows suit. This year, we are in a better position than last year, when there was softness in demand. That isn’t the case today.
Are you confident of maintaining the current growth momentum?
Yes, more or less. In one quarter, we may see a particular service doing better and I cannot predict quarter-to- quarter change but, in terms of secular growth on a full-year basis, the momentum is there.
As CEO of Wipro’s IT business, what has been your experience over the last three years?
I think a lot has been done within the enterprise in terms of bringing in speed and agility, but there is a long way to go. It really boils down to getting people who are competent — that is the challenge and it’s a work in progress.
One must realise we are a big organisation where meritocracy has traditionally been based on how many years one has served in the company and not necessarily on the impact they would have on the customer.
The appraisal process has been changed to bring those to the fore who have made an impact. We started the process of identifying such people last year and, today, we have a fair idea of who they are. These are people who, over the long term, will move into positions of responsibilities and in front of markets — they cannot be in India.
All my business units’ heads have moved and are sitting in the market. Most of our vertical heads, client-engagement managers, delivery heads and key account managers are in the market. It has been a big change and people understand the customer better. Now, the next big thing for us is to bring in people from the industry.
Are you looking at hiring top talent from outside the industry?
For the BFSI sector, we have a person from the UK banking industry, someone who was ranked the top technology executive in 2013. We would be looking at hiring domain experts from the industry across sectors.
The idea is to decentralise the business further while talent management is handled by me. We want each business to run like an independent unit. There has been a certain execution rigour seeping into the
Has the company’s execution ability improved?
It has been driven by market forces and our ability to react while being effective. This has been the big difference. The slackness has gone away, at least in several layers, but down below in the organisation, there is still a lot of control. I tell the strategic business unit heads that the dreams and nightmares of running it are theirs while my job is to make sure we have the best people in the company.
We make sure we have the best people and rotate them through different functions — if they are able to manage change effectively, they are the leaders of tomorrow.
What is Wipro’s digital strategy ?
In digital, we do not expect great topline growth, but the idea is to build a service around this. For example, if one looks at sales functions, there are three components: handling the funnel, converting the funnel and post- sales experience. If one looks at these three components, both in the digital and physical fronts, data between both can be shared for effectiveness in each of these areas.
We will provide a service that will work in both areas, with a lot of inbuilt tools to improve effectiveness. It is going to grow slow as a service and we are not expecting rapid growth.
We believe most of the people who do mundane jobs in the service businesses will get automated out and the skill base is going to be very sharply differentiaed. The market will move towards people who have got a very high degree of skills.
Why did you announce a salary hike six months ahead?
We want to remain consistent — we do not want people to believe they are not going get a hike in June. We are always going to give salary hikes, without exception. I’am very clear that on June 1, whether it is good or bad time, even if profitability is under pressure, we will give out salary hikes.