Wipro Executive Chairman Azim Premji. Photo: AFP

After nearly five decades at the helm, Azim Premji plans to retire on July 30 as executive chairman and managing director of software services company Wipro and hand over the baton to his elder son Rishad Premji.

Premji, India’s second richest man and a well-known philanthropist, was instrumental in transforming a vegetable oil company, Western India Vegetable Products, into Wipro, that is now India’s fourth-largest software services firm.

Wipro entered the IT products business in 1982 and now caters to some of the world’s biggest banks and healthcare companies. Premji took over the reins of the company in 1966 when it had a sales of US$2 million. As on March 31 this year, sales stood at more than $8.5 billion.

In his last address to shareholders on Tuesday, Premji said that Wipro is focusing on four new-age technology areas, including digital, cloud, engineering services, and cybersecurity to drive its growth.

The outgoing chairman said that Rishad’s leadership will bring new ways of thinking, experience, and competence that will lead Wipro to greater heights. “He has been an integral part of the leadership team since 2007, and has a deep understanding of the company, business strategy, culture, and heritage,” Premji said.

Rishad is currently the chief strategy officer and a member of the board. An MBA from Harvard University, Rishad was instrumental in setting up of Wipro Ventures, a venture capital fund for start-ups. He joined Wipro in 2007 as a business manager and worked at the company’s banking and financial services division. In 2010 he was elevated as chief strategy officer.

Premji’s younger son Tariq is in the board of Wipro Enterprises, a privately held non-IT business unit which is the parent of Wipro Consumer Care and Wipro Infrastructure and Engineering.

The outgoing chairman will serve on the Wipro Board as Non-Executive Director and Founder Chairman, but plans to dedicate most of his time and energy to the philanthropic efforts of the Azim Premji Foundation.

Set up in 2001, the Foundation works towards improving access to primary education in India and helps improve the lives of street children and the physically-challenged. The Foundation also runs Azim Premji University in Bengaluru.

Despite his wealth, Premji led a modest life and stands tall among India’s philanthropists. The total value of funds committed by him to philanthropic activities is $21 billion, which includes a 67% economic ownership of Wipro.

In his tweet, India’s Electronics & Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said: “As Azim Premji retires from Executive Chairman of @Wipro I wish to compliment him for his tremendous contribution to the Indian IT industry and making #Wipro a global IT giant. I welcome Rishad Premji who takes the leadership of the organization.”

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