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"The time to build frugality is when there is no need to"

The recession taught Wipro the importance of innovation, optimising resources and being the best-cost partner of its clients.

Azim Premji | Print Edition: January 10, 2010

Adversity gives us a chance to question our models of success and also take a closer look at failures. Economic downturns are an intrinsic part of any business cycle but they hurt us when we are not prepared for them. The current downturn is an opportunity to re-examine the assumptions on which a business model is hinged. Many assumptions and issues that were blurred and unseen, given the dizzying pace of growth of the it industry, have been questioned with the slowing down of the economy. It is time to refocus on innovation and building value for the customer besides improving cost and process-efficiencies.

Azim Premji, Chairman, Wipro Ltd.
The recession taught me more sharply than ever that optimising resources and being the best-cost partner is something that businesses cannot stop doing. It is always about building sustainability in the business model. A happy customer is no reason to stop innovating and heady growth is the best time to look for optimising costs. The time to build frugality is when there is no need to.

Constraints as Triggers of Innovation
I have also learnt to look at constraints as the framework in which to innovate. The more the constraints, the more the opportunities to ask how can we become relevant to existing customers and make investments that will keep us prepared for the future. The biggest risk of a slowdown is that the company embraces conservatism. An entrepreneurial culture takes time to build and it is easy to undo what may have taken years to build.

Optimise resources and be the best-cost partner.
Don't become conservative; take calculated risks.
Don't stop the flow of questions; questions help build up confidence.

In difficult times it is even more critical to be customer-centric. We should use a slowdown to sharpen our understanding of customers and work with them to see what lies around the corner for their business. In the face of a slowdown the customers' priority is to reduce costs and conserve capital. Have a clear solution that will help the customer win.

Make some bold strategic moves and build sustainable competitive advantage. In tough times it is easy to follow the majority and be conservative, but leaders set themselves apart by taking calculated risks and changing course. The tough times are a time to redefine the markets and customers. With its recent acquisition of Yardley, Wipro now covers a wider footprint by tapping into the Yardley consumers in Asia, the Middle East, Australia and Africa.

The other important lesson I have learnt is to encourage team members and employees to ask questions. Never stop the flow of questions. There is no time like a crisis to question age-old practices, beliefs and assumptions. Innovations come from those who are not afraid to question even models that are successful and have no need to be tinkered with. Questioning helps build confidence.

Winning is about leveraging adversity to build a winning culture. Business cycles are like the hurdles in a race. You can choose to either let them break your pace and slow down or you can just knock them off and keep running.

— Azim Premji, 64, is the Chairman, Wipro Limited

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