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'India's Bill Gates' to retire from IT group Wipro

Azim Premji, who started out selling cooking oil, will focus on philanthropy

Wipro Chairman Azim Premji, who built the company up into India's fourth-largest software exporter, announced his retirement on June 6. He is pictured here at the World Economic Forum.   © Reuters

MUMBAI -- The man who created one of India's leading information technology services groups, Wipro, out of a vegetable oil business said on June 6 he will retire in July.

Azim Premji, often described as India's Bill Gates, will leave the company after 53 years from his current position as chairman and managing director. He will make way for CEO Abidali Z. Neemuchwala, who will take over as managing director, while son Rishad will become chairman.

"It has been a long and satisfying journey for me," Premji said in a statement. "As I look into the future, I plan to devote more time to focus on our philanthropic activities. I have great confidence and trust in Rishad's leadership to steer Wipro in its next phase of growth as we move forward."

Born on July 24, 1945, Premji left Stanford University to join his family's business, Western Indian Vegetable Products, in 1966. He immediately began diversifying into new businesses, such as soap, shoes and hydraulic cylinders. In 1977, Premji renamed the company Wipro and ventured into computers when IBM left the Indian market.

Wipro started off selling computers but later shifted its focus to software. Premji was instrumental in turning what was then a $2 million cooking oil business into a group generating nearly $ 8.5 billion in revenue and spanning 58 countries.

Now India's fourth-largest software exporter, Wipro has struggled with low growth mode in recent years, weighed down by insolvencies by clients, slowing U.S. demand and weakening revenue from its core IT services business.

For the quarter ended in March, Wipro's net profit rose to 24.84 billion rupees ($359 million) from 18.03 billion rupees a year earlier, the company said in a statement. Revenue from IT services grew more than 11% to 150.38 billion rupees.

A slow pace of transition to new digital technologies such as artificial intelligence and cloud computing, as well as declining investments in its traditional software maintenance business have deepened Wipro's woes. Wipro made a leadership change in February 2016, appointing industry veteran Neemuchwala as the new CEO.

In 2001, Premji established the Azim Premji Foundation, a not-for-profit organization with the aim of improving the quality and equity of India's public schools. Premji has so far donated $21 billion to the foundation, including 67% of shares in Wipro.

"I'm inspired by Azim Premji's continued commitment to philanthropy. His latest contribution will make a tremendous impact," Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates tweeted in March.

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