I win by running against competition: Wipro CEO TK Kurien

TK Kurien, 54, has been helping Wipro implement a turnaround plan and get back to industry leading growth since 2011, when the Bangalore based company disbanded its joint-CEO model.

Under Kurien, Wipro has been winning large outsourcing contracts and building its expertise in niche technologies, but the company is yet to hit the 3% sequential sales growth mark. Kurien says Wipro’s turnaround effort is now almost over and it is more confident than it has ever been in the past three years. Edited excerpts:

Many people say that Wipro flatters to deceive. What do you have to say about that?
The answer is we still have lots to do. If we don’t get a 3% consistent growth, frankly we are not there. Linearity is critical and we are not there yet. Having said that, the good news is that for the first time after many quarters, we see our order book position strong. We see it growing. There is a certain sense of bullishness in the company. I am confident that negative emotions of the past have gone away. People are really focused on executing.

But it is taking a lot of time, right? People say it has been a long wait with this 2-2 .5% growth.
In a company of this size, which is completely momentum-led , if you lose market share for a couple of years, bringing that back is really difficult. I think people don’t exactly understand the complexity we have gone through. Three years ago, if you had asked people within Wipro, they would tell you Wipro was in a sleepy position, but you won’t hear that today. If you look at the first quarter last year and compare it year-on-year , we are at 4%. This year, with the lower end of our guidance, which is negative, our year-on-year growth will be 8%. When will we hit a 12-13 %? I don’t have an answer to that. But we do have a strong order book.

Are these the factors that make you believe restructuring is done? Or is there anything we are forgetting?
About restructuring, what I mean is that people movement is done. Will there be short-term changes, yes. But nothing that is going to make headlines. Our business is going through a fundamental change and companies that are able to anticipate the change and react to it ahead of time are better off. In the tech industry, most businesses last for 10-15 years. We believe with the advent of cloud and all consumer technologies coming in, ‘as a service’ would become a reality. For instance, if you’re buying IT services, you no longer make capital investments. This means, customers are not going to increase the budget given to their IT function every year. Instead, they are going to ask how much are you going to charge for this service, and let me bench-mark this service. It is very nascent yet.

You hired 241 people last year. You mentioned about the organisational pyramid structure no longer being relevant. Could you elaborate a bit about your hiring strategy going forward?
The future workforce will be sharply differentiated in terms of people who have got more crossfunctional skills vis-a-vis people who are deep in a particular area. People who sit in between and do broking are going to be affected. They are slowly going to go away. Yet, in the lower end of the pyramid, you’ll still require lots of people. It’s going to look more hour-glass-like rather than a typical pyramid. The point is, when you squeeze in the middle, how do people make transitions from bottom to top? The answer is by getting cross-functional experience.

How is Wipro preparing for this?
It is our responsibility to make sure that people on the pyramid get retrained. The whole thrust over the next 12-18 months will be to make sure we offer that to people. My sense is that a large part of our population will change and some will not. The population that will change will have a future, the other population won’t have a future.

As technology changes, would you say Wipro is better prepared compared to rivals?
I can’t say that. I don’t win by running down competition; I win by winning against competition.

~ Varun Sood & Indu Nandakumar,ET Bureau

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