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A Conversation with Azim H. Premji

Speaker: Azim H. Premji, Chairman, Wipro Limited
Presider: David M. Rubenstein, Cofounder and Managing Director, Carlyle Group
February 14, 2011



DAVID M. RUBENSTEIN: I want to welcome you this morning to another in the CEO series that we have, sponsored by the corporate program, and I want to welcome all of you to this.

I've been told to say two things at the outset. One, turn off your cell phones, and also the vibration part. Turn off those, too. And so please do that now.

And normally in these kinds of things, I'm always told to say this is off the record, but here I'm told to say this is on the record. So this conversation will be on the record, and no doubt it will be in publications, Newsweek probably in one minute or so after we're done. Right, Sidney?

QUESTIONER: No, we published it last night. (Laughter.)

RUBENSTEIN: Okay. All right.

So what I'd like to do is initially introduce the speaker. He will make a few opening remarks, then I'll have some questions, and then we have about a half-hour reserved for questions from our members that are here.

And this CEO series is designed to give people a sense of what it's like to be a CEO in modern corporate America or modern corporate world, and the theory is that CEOs are increasingly people who have important impacts on public policy and also have great ideas about how the world might be improved in some respects, and therefore we've tried over a number of years now to have some of the leading CEOs in the United States and the world, and we've done that, and we have one of those here today, as well.

Being a CEO is not that easy. And typically we have public company CEOs in the United States last about six to eight years or so. We don't really have people serving as CEOs for very long periods of time. Our guest today is somebody who's served effectively as CEO for about 40 years of his company. So, extraordinary length of time.

But he's really something more than that. Mr. Premji, Azim Premji, who is the founder, really, of Wipro, served effectively as CEO for about 40 years of his company, but more than that, he's a "twofer," in the sense that he's also the entrepreneur who really built the company. Rarely do you find somebody who has run a company that he's also built. Now, we have a couple of those. Of course, in the United States, Bill Gates famously started the company and has run it, but that's very rare.

But we also have a "threefer" in Mr. Premji, in the sense that he's also taken another part of his life, like Bill Gates, and devoting an enormous amount of his time to philanthropy. And recently he made a gift that was the largest single gift ever made in philanthropy in India, and, I think, the largest single gift made anywhere in the world last year. He gave $2 billion to his own foundation for the purpose of improving Indian education. And he is somebody who is going to give away a large part of his net worth, which is quite considerable. He's one of the wealthiest men in the world.

He started his career, really, like Bill Gates, dropping out of college. He dropped out of Stanford, but he dropped out in part because his father died and he went back to run a very small family company that was really specializing in hydrogenated oils and cooking fats and things like that, but he transformed that over a 40-year period of time to one of the leading technology companies in the world, Wipro. It's a company that now has market capital of about $24 billion. He owns about two-thirds of it. And it's a company that has revenues of about $6 1/2 billion, serves in about -- works in about 55 different countries around the world. The principal sales actually come in the United States.

And he has -- in addition to doing that, he has spent a lot of his time over the years getting to know business people around the world. He's very active in a lot of business organizations, but recently devoted himself considerably to philanthropy. He set up his foundation a number of years ago. And it's a foundation that has enormous impact in India but also around the rest of the world.

And he's also done one thing that Bill Gates has not been able to do. He went back and got his college degree. He dropped out at Stanford, and 30 years later he went back and got his Stanford electrical engineering degree. So Bill Gates has still something to catch up to you on doing.

So we're very pleased that we have somebody today who is a CEO, an entrepreneur and a great philanthropist. And what we'd like to do today is try to ask you a lot of questions about how you came to do what you did and what your vision is in the future.

But let me start by just asking you if you might make a few opening remarks about some of the things you wanted to talk about, and then we'll get into questions. Okay?

AZIM H. PREMJI: Thank you, David.

You know, the problem with such introductions is -- and I think I best quote my wife on it; you know, she often tells me, when she hears introductions like this, "Azim, for god's sake, I can't figure out how you ever achieved what you did achieve in life." (Laughter.) But, you know, it's comments like those and comments like -- traveling economy in the United States which gets you really grounded down to life. (Laughter.) I think they are very useful when you're successful because you happen to be in the right industry at the right time, you're successful because you're lucky. I mean, you cannot underestimate the value of luck in success in life. And I've really learned to appreciate that.

You know, what I will just briefly talk to you about is -- more broadly, I will talk to you about education in India, but my understanding is more of primary education in India, somewhat of secondary education in India, which is about standard nine and 10, and the education which we focus on in the cities and, more importantly, in the villages of India.

And within that context, it would be useful to cover initiatives which are there of public-private participation in India, because we have a huge gap between what we need and what we are achieving, and a huge gap between what is supposed to be taught, particularly in primary education in the villages and what is actually learned. And part of it is determined by poverty, but most, most importantly it is determined by very, very shameful execution of education in the country. And that has improved, but it's not improving fast enough.

You know, we're a country of 1.1 billion people. Education is accessible. There's a new act been passed, which is a right-to-education act. There are about 227 million kids in up to secondary school. The number of students in primary school -- that is, up to standard eight -- the dropout rates have very significantly fallen in the past 15 years, but even then, those dropout rates of -- approximately there are (215/250 ?) million children who are in primary education; the people that -- the boys and the girls who are not in school are 25 million. So you can see the scale. They have fallen, but they have fallen to 8, 9, 10 percent. And that is also reducing drastically. So that problem is going to get addressed. And it's by parental interference and availability of schools.

But the frightening thing is that 35 percent of the children in primary schools up to standard eight -- 35 percent up to standard five cannot read or write. So, you know, you're talking about education, but you're not talking about measurement of education. You're not talking about quality of education. You're not talking about uniformity of education.

And the sad thing is -- you know, I spend time visiting villages. I spend time having the midday meal in villages. The sad thing is, you know, when you look into the eyes of the children, the boys and the girls, you're just terribly impressed in terms of how bright they are. And, you know, we have multiple languages I cannot speak. I can speak English. I can speak Hindi. I can understand one or two other languages. So I use translators when I need to communicate, and it translates back. So part of the feel is lost. Part of the gut is lost.

But the quality of questions these kids ask, I wish our top management would ask in the country. (Laughter.) Seriously, you know, I just find that the lower you go in life, the more intelligence and innocence there is and more white sheet of paper in a mind there is in terms of quality of students you -- quality of questions which you get. I find quality of questions you get on a factory floor are far more intelligent than the quality of questions you get in an office. It's uniform right across.

But this just speaks that these kids are bright, these kids are motivated; they want to make something of their life. Inherently, they are demanding of their teachers, which they are not getting. And they are ambitious, because media is available in a village. Even if a media of a TV is not available in a home, there's this concept of community homes, where a reasonably well-off villager will have a TV and a nice TV, and he'll keep it outside the house in the evenings. And there will be a gathering of 20, 25 families -- people, around the TV, because they can't afford to have TV in their own homes.

So there's a huge amount of communication of what is happening in the rest of India and the gaps between the standards they live and the standards lived by many people in the cities and by many people even outside the cities.

In the villages, 90 percent -- and about 70 percent of India's population is in the villages -- 90 percent of the schools in the villages are government schools. And they're run by 6-1/2 million teachers. And these are all unionized, because of the -- and they're each within the state -- and because they're so heavily unionized, the teacher today is the best-paid profession in a village. So there is no rationalization to say that you cannot hire, attract and retain quality talent as village teachers. That's the least of the problems.

But of these six -- and I use very powerful things, because this needs to come out in media -- of the 6-1/2 million children -- of teachers, at least 1 million teachers never attend school. They put in bogus attendance, and the union lets them get away with it. But the sad thing is that the community leaders, the community women, who should be the people with the maximum vested interest, are not pushing back enough to have this corrected. And we have so many effective laws, like the Right to Information Act, by which this thing could be pushed back and corrected quite quickly.

The public/private partnerships are taking various forms in India. It is individuals who are socially oriented are setting up schools. They're setting up colleges. They're setting up universities. They're setting up primary-education schools in the villages, particularly the villages their original families came from. And they get support for these schools in one form or the other, very often in terms of subsidized land and some recurring fees.

In the engineering schools, it's much more for profit. There are partnerships in which a new initiative has been launched by the government, whereby they want to bring out about two (thousand) or 3,000 schools as an experiment, where there's going to be a financial public-private partnership. It's not taken off as yet, and it's going through a process of review.

They have partnerships such as we do, very extensively. We work with the village schools. We work with the city schools. And what we do is see how we can lift standards, which we can talk about in the Q&A if you're all interested.

So we give professional, skilled help; with the result in our foundation now, we are involved in the villages of India, in 11 states of India, which represents about 55 percent of the population of India. And we are involved with about 27,000 schools. And we have involved with about 2-1/2 million children in our foundation.

Similarly, in our company, Wipro Limited, because of our social initiatives, we are now involved with about 1,000 -- 1,400 schools, and about -- cumulatively, we have covered about a million children.

But our focus in our -- in our company is primarily to make the process of learning, from standard one through standard eight, more interactive, more questioning, versus pure rote learning. And we've been very successful, because we work with about 32 partners in that.

I think what we face as a country is a huge gap between demand and supply. And this is primarily in the area of school teachers. There's a huge shortage coming up of school teachers. The university teaching -- institutes of teachers in India are just not adequate. They're not turning out enough volume, let alone the quality of the people that they turn out, which is why as a foundation, we have now decided to set up a university. It took us two years to get permission. We asked for nothing. We asked for no land. We asked for no subsidy. We asked for no capital. And we asked for no recurring grants.

And setting up a university in India dedicated to teaching is a very expensive proposition, like most schools here also realize. It's not a for-profit business. And it will start in taking the students in about four months from now.

But the focus of our university is to train education professionals. And with the ability to give degrees, we'll be able to attract talent. But we will bias a lot of our talent, of recruitment of potential teachers, who we'll give bachelor of ed. degree, master of ed. degree and the ph.D. degrees, to students who come from poorer families, students who come from the villages and students in whom we believe we can create a sense of mission to go back and teach.

But more than 60 percent of the work of the university will be dedicated to training education professionals who are working with other schools, who are working with state governments, who are working in administrative positions in state governments, which oversee the education department of schools.

And many of these we will be hiring into our own organization as we go forward, because we intend to scale from about 350 full-time employees now to about 5,000 employees and set up district centers, because we find that unless we are where the action is, we cannot have adequately effective intervention in upgrading the quality of learning and teaching which goes on in these schools. Broadly, these are the some of the comments which I wanted to make.

RUBENSTEIN: Well, let me ask you before we get into some of the substantive issues, you've mentioned you're flying around on planes in the United States. Most people who have net worths of 15 billion (dollars) or so tend not to be flying economy class in the United States, or in India.

So why do you feel you can't have your own plane, and why do you not want to take some of your $15 billion and buy a plane and fly around a little bit more luxuriously? Why do you like the economy class?

PREMJI: Because one is, I don't want Obama on my back for it.


PREMJI: (Chuckles.)

RUBENSTEIN: Well, in India, when you get on a plane and you're in economy class, so people must recognize you, I guess?

PREMJI: In India, yes.

RUBENSTEIN: They do. And --

PREMJI: It's good for your brand.

RUBENSTEIN: Okay. (Laughter.)

PREMJI: No, but actually, one does it because it's company policy. You can't set policy and you don't follow company policy.

RUBENSTEIN: But you make the company policy.

PREMJI: And I --

RUBENSTEIN: But -- (soft laughter.)

PREMJI: But second thing is, you know, I really think it gets you down to reality. I find too many rich people and too many rich chief executive officers have really lost part of their touch with reality. (It's ?) point of view, so you would probably disagree.

RUBENSTEIN: Well, maybe on one part of that but -- (laughter) -- on the flying around.

But let me ask you. How did you go from -- (night ?) was it -- you had to leave Stanford. Your father died. You went back and you had an hydrogenated oils company, relatively small family company.

How did you transform that into one of the largest technology companies in the world? What was the motivation to do so? And how did you actually transform the company?

PREMJI: You know, when the -- the company when I came on the scene was about 4 billion -- $4 million a year. It was very small company. And it was in cooking fats and frozen commodity cooking fats, which were sold to wholesalers, not sold to retailers and, therefore, sold to consumers. But the most important thing which we did was transform the company into a strong brand company catering to the end user.


PREMJI: Which gave me a very in-depth understanding of the whole process of marketing, because you have to work the streets. India has 21 million retailers who sell their products, 21 million retailers. So you can't sell products into the retail outlets unless you are visiting 45 shops a day in the villages of India, in different parts of the country and different temperatures in the country, which can vary from five degrees to 45 degrees centigrade.

RUBENSTEIN: But did you have a technology background? You were study engineering.

PREMJI: I had a background in electrical engineering. But I think the trigger point was that IBM left the country in '77, because IBM in those days believed that they -- the country -- they were trying to negotiate terms with the government. And we had a very strong industrial minister who said that they have to bring current technology, which was fair, and they could hold majority interest in the country, because we had limitation on majority control. And they tried to bargain with the government, and the government said no. So in protest they left the country. And they were selling at that time, in '77, unit record machines in India, which had been junk in the United States in the late '60s. It just created a huge opportunity of a vacuum.


PREMJI: And we were looking for a diversification which was affordable, which was service-oriented, which required after-sales service. We zeroed in on microprocessor-based mini computers.

RUBENSTEIN: And right now, you -- your company is doing a number of things: software development, software services, but also out -- so-called outsourcing.

How do you respond to the argument that outsourcing by Indian companies has led to a reduction in jobs in the United States. I'm sure you've heard this. And what is your response to that?

PREMJI: You know, we are primarily an IT-servicing company, similar to, say, Accenture -- (inaudible) --


PREMJI: -- or IBM Global Services. You know, one is on an issue of philosophy, where I take objection to what is happening in terms of restriction. I think what you're seeing happening in manufacturing, of globalization of manufacturing, is happening in services -- services, not just IT services -- in globalization of services. You cannot globalize the experience of eating, but you can globalize many other areas of services within I technology, with IT services, where there's legal services, where there is accounting services.


PREMJI: So I think this is the next big wave. As it is the next big wave, I think the world must adjust itself that this is the next big wave. And if the Western world wants standards of liberalization for global trade, those standards of liberalization must extend just as much to manufacturing, to imports, to exports, as well as for servicing. So if the Western world tends to have one-way standards which suits them, I think they're asking for trouble in terms of emerging countries like India, China, Africa putting up more significant tariff barriers on imports of harvest and products.

RUBENSTEIN: And who do you regard as your biggest competitors? Other Indian technology companies or American companies, Chinese companies? Where do you see the great competition coming from, for your company?

PREMJI: Our prime competition is IBM and Accenture, and in terms of cost competition, China. China is cost competition in everything in the world, and IT is no exception because they produce as many engineers as we do. They're mathematical; they're ambitious. And manufacturing and R&D are getting more and more interlinked in location. So in the R&D services areas, they can be quite a major threat.

RUBENSTEIN: Now, a lot of prominent people --

PREMJI: Coming back to your original question in terms of jobs which are going lost to IT outsourcing --


PREMJI: -- I think that's an important point. You know, if you just analyze, over the past 10 years, the jobs lost to manufacturing in America are significantly, significantly higher than the jobs lost to services in America. If you look at the breakdown of unemployment rates, the breakdown of unemployment rates in the United States -- and these are borne out by facts distributed by American authorities and American government authorities -- is something like 1 percent to 2 percent unemployment rate among IT professionals.

The biggest problem we have today operating in America -- we have 9,000 people in America, resident in America, ordered visas in America. About 35 percent of them, Americans. The biggest problem we have is recruiting talent in the United States. It's just not available.

RUBENSTEIN: Recruiting talent in the United States.

PREMJI: Recruiting the talent in United States.


PREMJI: So we have really switched now to campus recruitment in United States. And we have set up a state-of-the-art center in Atlanta, and we have recruited over the past three years, in the midst of the (reset ?) of the world, about 800 professionals.


PREMJI: Eighty-five percent of them are Americans, and 70 percent of them have been hired from local universities, like Georgia Tech, et cetera, putting them through an induction program of three to six months and then making them part of our team. And we're going to repeat that in two more centers in United States in the next one year.

RUBENSTEIN: Now, many prominent Indian businesspeople in the United States have chosen not to move back to India. You chose to move back. Why do you think so many people from India who were educated in the United States often stay here, start companies? I think one-third of the companies in Silicon Valley are now said to be owned by people from India. Do you see a trend where Indian students are now going to go back to India? Or are they going to stay in the United States more?

PREMJI: I think most certainly more Indian students will go back. They'll go back for two reasons. One is the opportunities and the quality of the jobs that they can get there in terms of technology they can be working on, which is a motivation for technical people.

Two is the compensation levels in India have reached a level now whereby you can afford a good standard of living in India if you're educated and are employed by a good company. But at the -- at the most senior level, people are very well settled here. They're happier. America's an open country, irrespective of the needling that has -- happening on visas.

And their children are used to America. You know, I have a sister living in Halifax. She has four children. Nobody of -- none of them want to go back to India, because their whole life they have grown up in Canada.

RUBENSTEIN: Now, when you wrote a check for $2 billion, did you mention to your wife you were going to give away $2 billion? And what did she say and your children say? And was it hard to write that $2 billion check?

PREMJI: I suppose they were supportive of it, you know. We have a little different philosophy, you know: There's a limit to greed.

MR. : (Off mic.) (Laughter.)

RUBENSTEIN: Right. Right. (Applause.)

So how did you happen to pick education? Of the many things that are needed in India, why did you pick education versus other things as the focus of your philanthropy?

PREMJI: First you have to have a focus. You know, I just believe if you don't have a focus, you're spreading yourself too thin. We chose education because we saw the gaps there. It was just absolutely shocking, absolutely shocking what was happening. And education has very interesting multiplier effect. One is, it's a process of building a country; it's a process of building a nation. Because you build -- you build, if you're successful, young boys and young girls who can be better leaders, better citizens, better integrity, better responsibilities towards the country, their fellow people.

Equally important, we've found that the girl-child, even if she's educated up to about standard eight, standard nine, standard five, standard six, when she grows up she has a smaller family. Immediately you attack, parallel-ly, the concept of smaller families and more affordable families. And you see this correlation all over the world, and you see this correlation in higher-educated states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu --


PREMJI: -- which have much smaller families.

And three, the girl-child, again, when she's educated, is much more open to primary health care and disciplines of primary health care.

RUBENSTEIN: And how do you compare, in your own life, the relative pleasures of building a company and the relative pleasures of giving away money? Where do you see the greater challenge and the greater pleasure?

PREMJI: Much greater challenge of giving away money -- particularly if you're clear that you want to use it well, particularly if you're clear that you don't want to be writing checks to other people. Other people, I mean, you know, other foundations which are large in scale and don't need your checks. Or particularly if you don't want to give donations to government, because we believe that money is not well used. So you have to build things from scratch. And it's very complex.

RUBENSTEIN: And today, are you --

PREMJI: And to build things to scale which get institutionalized, so you become irrelevant in it very soon.

RUBENSTEIN: And you are going to focus on some other things in your philanthropy, other than education. Have you decided what other things you're going to do other than education?

PREMJI: Roughly next step will be elements of primary health care at a village level, because the two things go to -- go very much one to one.


Now, India is a country --

PREMJI: Primary health care.

RUBENSTEIN: -- which, as it's growing -- its economy is growing, it's one of the bigger economies in the world and it's obviously growing, but per capita the income is very low, relatively speaking. Do you see any fundamental change in India's per-capita income and elimination of some of the enormous poverty in India over the next 10 or 20 years? Or do you think that's just too far into the future to predict?

PREMJI: Without question it'll happen. I think, irrespective of our governments, the economy will grow at 8 percent. I think the nice thing about India is it's become a bit like Italy. We function irrespective of our governments. (Laughter.) So the economic engine has enough momentum in it, and there's a huge amount of entrepreneurship, really a huge amount of entrepreneurship. You see it in Indians who come to the United States -- yourself made the statement that one-third of the startups are by people of Indian origin.

RUBENSTEIN: Now, have you been influenced by the activities of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett in your philanthropy? Or have you had no -- they had no real influence, you were going to do this anyway? Or what kind of impact do you think they've had?

PREMJI: I know both of them, and I have enormous respect for both of them. I think they're taking a message to the world which is a useful message, and I think they've made some fairly interesting penetration in the United States. If their presence -- and in -- they're in India on 24th of March, and, you know, I want the panel to (return ?) more on this issue.

RUBENSTEIN: Right. But --

PREMJI: I think if you -- if you -- if you keep repeating and repeating and repeating this and keep demonstrating and demonstrating and demonstrating this, it does have an effect.

RUBENSTEIN: But in your -- in India, the philanthropy is not quite as well entrenched, let's say, as it is in the United States. Why do you think that is the case? And do you see a real change in India occurring?

PREMJI: One is because there's no estate duty law in India. It was there; it was withdrawn many, many years back. So the fact that estate duty takes a huge chunk in United States is no longer there in India. You can leave the entire estate completely intact.

Two is I think there's a much more cultural feeling in India, much more culture aspect in India that you have to leave your will to your family, your immediate family. And there's an expectation from the family that that will happen. And that -- most people are just not breaking away from it.

RUBENSTEIN: What would you take from your business career as the most important life lessons? In other words, if you were going to talk to some students and give them advice about what they can do to have a successful career, such as yours, what would you say are the one or two most important life lessons you've taken from your own career?

PREMJI: My own life lessons?


PREMJI: Modesty. Two is, you know, you learn more from failure than you learn from success, provided the failure teaches you a lesson.

RUBENSTEIN: All right. It's not --

PREMJI: And luck is very important.

RUBENSTEIN: And you wouldn't say it's the color of your hair, which I've always thought was such an important success indicator. No? (Laughter.)

PREMJI: (Chuckles.)


PREMJI: You know, it is a funny thing. When I first came on the scene I was 21 years old, and I had to color my white -- hair white because nobody would take me seriously. (Laughter.)

RUBENSTEIN: I've had the same problem, but -- (laughter) --

PREMJI: (Chuckles.)

RUBENSTEIN: So we have time for some questions from our members. What I'd like you to do is get a microphone; stand up, if you would; identify your affiliation and your name; and then ask the question to Mr. Premji.

So right here we have a question.

QUESTIONER: Thank you, Mr. Premji. I'm Joel Cohen from Rockefeller and Columbia Universities in New York City, and I applaud what you're doing for primary education. Would you address the question of nourishing the child so that the child can learn when he or she gets to school? I'm concerned about problems of undernutrition and whether your primary health care plans will address questions of nutrition of children.

PREMJI: You know, what we want to now influence -- and we want government to pay for it -- there's a very interesting scheme in India in -- as part of education, which I think is now being repeated by many other countries in the world, of a free midday meal by the government schools. And it's part of the whole budget, and it's a significant part of the whole budget.

And it's a decent meal, because many companies like us or many foundations like us have got involved in community advocacy on it, so that the meal gets supervised by the women when it is being cooked and when it is being served. It's localized in being cooked, so the ingredients are centrally shipped. And it's a decent meal, because I've had that very often. It's a simple meal. It's a vegetarian meal. But it's a balanced meal, because we have a lot of lentils in India, and that, combined with vegetables, is a decent meal.

But what is required is a supplement of some vitamins, which help in just a balance of what the body requires, which is often very absent. And that's what we want to influence, that it's part of the midday meal budget -- put this in. And if they don't agree to putting this into the budgets, influence policy at a senior level, push back from the villages at a senior level, push back from leadership at a senior level, to be able to achieve this -- that's one element of extra hygiene in the midday meal for the child.

The second area is in the area that -- of sanitation standards and health standards of cleanliness, which one very often does not find; which is, again, educating the village mother, the importance of that for the little children which are in the house, the newborn child which is going to be there; and generally a discipline that, you know, you don't take the garbage from your house and throw it into the neighbor's garden, which sometimes happens, and issues which are related to that.

A third area of involvement would be in very, very poor families how do we get involved in a much more deep manner. We try to figure that out, because we just got our hands terribly full of trying to do what we are doing and now trying to get this university up and about, because we have set very tight deadlines on it.

And we will work much more actively with organizations such as the Bill Gates Foundation. We are in dialogue with them, because they're doing some good work at a grassroot (level ?). So are other companies.

But what we've got to be careful of is not a very close association with multinationals as a foundation, because it just takes all kinds of side things when somebody wants to hit you in terms of opposition, which Mohammed Yunus is facing now in Bangladesh, and very seriously, because I just talked to him for five days back. And we are very, very, very, very careful that we are very low-key. So all the work which we do, we give the credit to the state authorities, to state bureaucrats and the state politicians, because generally they're doing the good work, and generally the people who work with us are the people who really stand out in terms of a conviction to do good work. And it makes no difference to us, and we get their support going forward. We don't want that to get diluted with the politics.

You know, we can take on the unions for getting teachers to attend school, but once you take on the union, then you have 6 1/2 million teachers in unions, you cannot fight them. It's not practical. So you have to build a cultivated sense of insensitivity to that, that living with some of the mess.

RUBENSTEIN: By the way, are your children involved in your philanthropy?

PREMJI: My elder son, yes. My younger son worked in our foundation for two, two and a half years, full-time.

RUBENSTEIN: Okay. And your other son is in the -- in your company?

PREMJI: He's now -- wealth management company.


PREMJI: It's a private company.

RUBENSTEIN: Okay. Other questions? Here.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. My name is Ali Jaffrey (sp). I'm with French Douglas Helman (sp) Real Estate. And I feel very blessed to be here. And I'd just like to say that the person that you are being is so incredible. If we could have CEOs that are more like you, this world would be a different place. You're very inspiring.

My question is that, you know, you stayed some points on how -- you know, what we can do to become like the -- like you. What other advice would you give? I'm sure that you've been through a lot in your life. Have you had mentors throughout your life? Are there any other, you know, points that you can share with us that can inspire us, anything you can share with us that would help?

PREMJI: Yeah, a very broad question.

RUBENSTEIN: In other words, how do you make $15 billion? And you can do that in five minutes. (Laughter.) You could summarize it. (Laughter.)

PREMJI: (Chuckles.)

QUESTIONER: Thank you.

PREMJI: You know, I think the most important thing -- and I find that in recruiting for leadership, whether it be in foundation, because I'm quite involved in selecting leadership -- because you've got good people, 60 percent of your job is done.

You must get people who have some sense of mission, you know, which is deep and unshakable, really is very important; who have a lot of confidence in themselves, which is also very important, because leaders are always facing hurdles, and they're always facing failures. You have to have that confidence to be sustaining and to be tenacious and to go on and on and on, because things come, and get results when you go on and on and on.

In primary education, it's most difficult because it's so frustrating. And I can imagine, if it's so frustrating for me, how frustrating it would be for our chief executive officer, who's on the road 150 days a year in the villages of India. And that's not like traveling to New York; it is rough. And our women -- our women employees find it so hard to get decent accommodations. And the Indian system is still (of ragging ?) women who are deep in the villages. So it's -- but they still have so much dedication.

And three is: Believe in yourself. You know, it's very important. Because if you don't believe in yourself, how do you expect other people to believe in you?

RUBENSTEIN: What technology companies in the world do you most admire, other than your own?

PREMJI: (Laughs.) No, I don't admire my own company the most, unfortunately. Though (you do get ?) complacent, don't you?

RUBENSTEIN: So there's no one that you want to cite as something -- as a role model or a great technology company, that you really admire the way they've built their business?

PREMJI: Different ways at different companies. Microsoft did it at one stage. It was quite remarkable, business and technology. Google has done it, which is quite exceptional. At this point of time, the one which seems to be having the maximum momentum and the maximum innovation and creativity seems to be Apple, as a technology company.

RUBENSTEIN: And is Facebook a big company in India? Is that a big deal in India?

PREMJI: It could become big. It'll become very big.

RUBENSTEIN: Okay. Other questions? In the back -- all the way in the back -- person with the beard.

QUESTIONER: Person with the beard, okay.


QUESTIONER: Thank you. Mr. Premji, one of the things which I feel is as a -- you make us very proud as people of Indian origin.

My question to you is, you focused on education. There are many parts of India -- the tribal places -- where they don't have any access to means of transportation to even get to a school. I know of a religious leader from India, Swami Dayananda (sp), who's setting up 600 institutions, to get these people to come and live in those places so they can go to school. Do you have any prospects of collaboration, cooperation with the religious institutions? I'm a product of a religious school from India, run by the Church of England, which is great. And so I think some religious folks are doing incredible work in education. I wonder if you do that.

Second part linked to this is, Mr. Mittal of Airtel is also doing with school. Can you, as the country's leading billionaires, somehow form some kind of a cooperation system to have -- even out the education play field so that, you know, there's consistency in sharing with each other? And do you propose in the future to get some of the leading educators from the institutions in America to go to India and teach with them, because that will make it more -- you know, playing -- an even play field.

PREMJI: You know, the first question, your facts are not correct. Today, 90 percent of village schools are within a commute distance, in one form or the other: a village -- a village handcart, a village rickshaw which takes in 20 kids in a rickshaw meant for three people -- (laughter) -- are within a -- and that's not expensive because if you share that rickshaw cost by 20 people, it's very cheap. It's within 30 minutes, which is fair. And that will also change. The schools are coming up all over the place, and one area where we must give credit to government where credit is due.

I think the more serious problem -- which is, again, very easy to fix -- is toilets in village school. And that becomes very awkward for the girl child when she reaches puberty, and quite a number of girl children fall out from school just because of this. And all it requires is, as part of the approved budget of the government, prioritize that in terms of the -- (inaudible) -- the physical assets which are going into the school. I think that will be fixed, is because we are putting a lot of pressure on it, and other people are putting a lot of pressure on it.

The third question was that we should be working collaboratively with other people who have interest in schools, like Mittal, or Bharti. We do. In fact, you know, he's visiting us two weeks from now. We want to leverage other people and we want to encourage these other people, such as Bharti, to scale. We want them to see whether they can learn something from us; we want to see whether we can learn something from them. So part of our rollout of scaling to a much larger scale than 2-1/2 million children -- we'd like to go to 10 million children in the course of the next five years -- is to work collaboratively with NGOs and industrialists and other social entrepreneurs, to see whether as a group we can be more scaled and as a group we can have higher standards.

You know, we do a very interesting program. Let me do a little selling on the programs we do in Wipro also, because we're getting too personal. We did a very interesting program which we launched two and a half years back called Mission 10X for engineering schools. You know, today, between 28 (percent) and 30 percent of the 650,000 engineers who graduate in India -- engineers who graduate in India -- U.S. has 75,000 engineers which graduate in the United States -- are not employable by the technology industry because their standards are not high enough, because the curricula is not current enough. But the kids are bright enough, okay, because engineering draws the best talent.

So we committed two and a half years back, and we dedicated 20 full-time professors to this from our training institute, Wipro, that we will train 10,000 professors in two years. We did it in less than two years. We just made a commitment now that we will train another 20,000 further professors in two years, by bringing them to our campus, by sending our campus teachers to them; and are completely redoing the curriculum and training the teachers in terms of technology, training the students in terms of technology. It's a very (involved amount ?). We use a lot of physical training and a lot of electronic training.

Now we have decided to open up all our material, all our courseware, all our software to competition, because we have no claim on these students to hire them. But the way we look at it is that if we can get even five of our leading competitors to do the same thing, we can convert within the next three years the ratio of hiring from engineering students three to five years, from 25 percent to 30 percent, to 40 (percent) to 45 percent, and then to 50 percent.

So we have suddenly doubled our pool of talent -- (inaudible) -- interest is that you get better students, you spend less money inducting them, and three, you solve the problem of unreasonable salary escalations.

RUBENSTEIN: Okay. Here, question.

QUESTIONER: John Watts of the World Policy Institute. Thank you for a very inspiring talk, and I'm very much admiring what you're doing in education, secondary and primary. I think if you get problems in India sorted out, you might help us with some of the ones we have here, in those areas.

I have a question about the -- is there a conjunction or an intersection between technology and the problems of connecting with the families of children, particularly in villages? Is it useful? Are there enough devices, enough education, enough resources to use computers as a link in that -- in that work?

PREMJI: I think the most powerful media of communication will be the TV because there's a habit of watching the TV. And if you can interface programs on education into popular programs of TV that generally get watched or if you can have dedicated programs which you're able to market in terms of how does a person improve his life skills, how does he improve his income levels, how does he prepare himself to prepare better for the examination, the media can be very powerful, and that media is available. But with broadband coming more and more, it will come across the country very soon. There's no physical limitation to it. I think it can be used very interestingly for education programs, and they're much more interactive.

RUBENSTEIN: What do you wish most Americans knew about India that they don't know? And what do you see as the greatest misconceptions about India in America?

PREMJI: You know, I find Americans who have visited India, you know, not morning in Bombay and leaving Bombay in the evening, but who have spent maybe even a week, 10 days in India and tried to move into few cities in India, not necessarily even into villages in India, come back with a reasonably good feel of India. They're smart. They're sensitive. They listen to people.

I think the misconception of Americans is they speak too much from a pedestal. You know, I don't think they have the diplomacy of the Europeans.


PREMJI: It would really help if you had some of the diplomacy of the -- you know, the Europeans are screwing us on visas anyway, but they're doing it with more style. (Laughter.)

RUBENSTEIN: Okay. Well, it's a lesson we'll take into account. (Laughter.)

In terms of -- I have one geopolitical question and maybe you're not the expert on it, but people would be interested in your views. Are most Indians today still worried about invasions from Pakistan or any kind of tension with Pakistan, or has that receded?

PREMJI: No, I don't think we're worried about invasion from Pakistan. I don't think Pakistan is left with any strength to invade a country like India. They would be desiccated overnight if they did that. In fact, what is containing them is any precipitation of war from India because they see the consequences of it. I think what is very, very concerning is the systematic terrorism which is building up in Pakistan. When I was recently with the home minister, the biggest problem -- and I was asking him, what is the solution to this? He says: Azim, our biggest problem is we don't know who to deal with. We just don't know who to deal with.

So it is very difficult to pin down anything, and two, within Pakistan, what is happening is that the Muslim fundamentalist groups are becoming more and more powerful. So it is worrying everyone because they tend to be extreme. And simultaneously, the extent of unemployment among young boys and girls is going up. That's the biggest festering of dissatisfaction and terrorism.

RUBENSTEIN: And your country is actually one of the largest Muslim countries in the world, maybe the second largest. Do you see --

PREMJI: After Indonesia. After Indonesia.

RUBENSTEIN: Yeah. After Indonesia. Do you see Muslim fundamentalism being a big issue in India or not as much as in other countries?

PREMJI: No, it is -- it's a nonissue in India.

RUBENSTEIN: Not an issue. Okay.

PREMJI: What is an issue in India is that the Muslim community, for one reason or the other -- and there are some social reasons for it -- is falling behind in education. So they should not fall behind on a continuous basis. And unless something is done about that, they become a group which becomes like the -- (inaudible) -- tribes, which becomes a group which, you know, they have to go more extreme steps of reserving jobs for them doing most -- (inaudible) -- things for them.


Question here, right here. Yes, ma'am.

QUESTIONER: Margaret Osmer, McQuade Asian Programs Foundation. You mentioned about the input your foundation is having on the curriculum at the university level. I wondered how you feel about curriculum content for primary and secondary schools, and whether it's possible for you to have input, or is that pretty tightly controlled by the government?

PREMJI: It is very controlled by the government. It is also very controlled by the government because many of them have book publishing organizations, you know, so there's an indirect nexus, but it is changing.

We are working very hard on that, to change curricula. In fact, we are working very hard in our foundation to permit skill training after standard eight as part of the curricula. Because if you don't start introducing skill training to equip young boys and girls to go into jobs which are coming up, you're going to get a large group of children who get more educated but become educated unemployed. And that can be a very, very serious problem of unrest, because their aspiration levels have gone up.

And what are the skills? You know, you're talking about motor mechanics, you're talking about plumbers, you're talking about masons, you're talking about carpenters, you're talking about people who can service simple electronic equipment, TVs. And a huge number of jobs coming up, which we need. And there's a huge shortage of this. Because of various schemes, the farm laborers from the other villages, from the other states, is not coming in.

And this is what Germany did very successfully, and it's not difficult to do. So we are now trying to get this much more into the curricula. And we want to equip ourselves, is: How do we build expertise as a foundation working with -- (inaudible) -- to be able to help in this transformation taking place? But it's a very critical accounting to make.

RUBENSTEIN: Okay. Other questions? Sidney.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. I'm Sidney Harman, the founding chairman of Harman International and currently employed as the chairman of Newsweek magazine. A comment you made earlier prompted me to remember a wonderful aphorism offered by our great poet Robert Lowell to the effect that the human being -- said, he is an astonishing instrument, turns on automatically when we get out of bed in the morning, does not turn off until we get to the office. (Laughter.)

You commented on how bright the people working within the company are. And it's my thought that in terms of education, great opportunity for leverage: schooling on company premises, company cost; and the opportunity that is so rich there for the parents of the kids to learn to develop great respect for learning and education and to see that as leverage with their children the next generation. Wonder whether you'd comment on that.

PREMJI: No, you say education given -- being given to the child within a corporate environment?

QUESTIONER: Given to the employees within the corporate environment, at corporate cost, corporate premises. Because the parent thus developing her own, his own sense of the value of learning, provides a level of leverage for students for their children.

PREMJI: You know, very interestingly, the schools which have come up by families, by families, are very biased towards this, is they give -- they give teaching to children of the families working in the company. It has a double purpose: It builds long -- deep relationships of loyalty. And they get the next generation of employees coming up from this. And they run to very high standards.

So many schools, apart from schools coming up near their villages, which was the parental villages, many schools of the families which are now setting up new schools are also, in a way, linked to the corporates and businesses which they have set up, particularly because Indian policy incentivates schools to be set up in very far-off non-cities to make it commercially viable to give incentive. So the schools -- the industry is coming up, but education facilities are not up to a standard which a professional would like to have.

But just to take off on that, you know, in our engineering business, we introduced a program for English learning, for the workmen -- for the workmen, the unionized workers. And it's the most popular program growing. And it's on their time; it's not on our time.

And the reason is that they have gone to a salary level which is attractive. The kids are well educated. The kids' children come over to the homes and start speaking in English. And they don't understand English, and they feel small. So they are on a crash course to learn English so that they don't look like fools in the home as compared to the friends of their children. And it's the most popular course.

So, you know, there are lots of innovations you can build around this whereby you can be giving something which is very practical which is not in a conventional school but really enhances the learning of the employee. But I think it'll be more interesting if we're able to extend it to his wife, where she doesn't have access to certain learning, where if she had access to certain learning she could have been a better parent, she could have looked after the house differently, she could have perhaps done a part-time job, working from home, issues like that. So I think it's very interesting possibilities there. And they're not very expensive.

RUBENSTEIN: Let me take the privilege of the last question. What would you like to see as your great legacy in life? What would you like to see as the legacy that you, while you'll be with us for a long time, leave behind? Is it your philanthropic activities, your business activities? what would you like people to remember the most about you?

PREMJI: I think the most of value I'd like people to remember was that I did the best in whatever I was doing. A very important sense of self-satisfaction to me.

RUBENSTEIN: Okay. Thank you. Well, obviously we've heard this morning from an extraordinary individual in business and philanthropy, and we're very pleased and proud that you were here. And thank you very much. (Applause.)












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