12:27 am - Saturday November 7, 2015

Wipro set to start search for next CEO

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BENGALURU: Wipro will begin a process to identify and groom a successor to chief executive TK Kurien later this year, the tossup likely to be between a potential high-profile external hire and a fast-rising executive considered a favourite of founder-chairman Azim Premji, both being considered for the position of chief operating officer.

India’s third-largest software firm is preparing to implement a CEO-COO structure with the COO managing day-to-day operations, similar to that at US-based rival Cognizant and cross-town peer Infosys, according to four people directly familiar with the company’s plans. Former head of TCS BPO, Abid Ali Neemuchwala, and energy and utilities chief Anand Padmanabhan are leading the race to be named Wipro’s first COO, and could potentially succeed Kurien, these people said, all of them requesting anonymity as the discussions are confidential. To be sure, while Kurien’s five-year term as CEO will expire early next year, an extension cannot be ruled out yet.

In the near term, the COO will run the business and free Kurien to focus on future strategy and technology, similar to how Cognizant CEO Francisco D’Souza operates. “What Wipro is planning to create will be very similar to what Cognizant has in place. A CEO COO structure would allow Kurien to focus on newer initiatives and future vision,” one of the people mentioned above said. Larger rivals TCS and Infosys have had similar succession strategies centered around the COO. At TCS, N Chandrasekaran served as COO before taking over from S Ramadorai, while at Infosys S Gopalakrishnan took over as CEO from Nandan Nilekani and SD Shibulal succeeded Gopalakrishnan.

If Wipro eventually picks Neemuchwala as COO, it would create a separate senior position to handle the ambitions of internal leaders such as Padmanabhan, according to the people mentioned above. Either of those two could be groomed to take over as CEO, they said. “The last full-term for a Wipro CEO was that of PS Pai.

The fact that Kurien is clearly going to serve his term and maybe beyond is a clear affirmation of Premji’s trust in Kurien,” a second person aware of Wipro’s plans said. Padmanabhan, who is well-liked by Premji, was designated president of the energy and utilities unit last year ? the only such position in the company ? and is internally considered likely to be promoted to one of the top two leadership positions at Wipro.

Wipro declined to comment for this story. “I’m not too sure whether Wipro will bring in someone from outside like Infosys has done,” said Kavil Ramachandran, executive director, Thomas Schmidheiny Centre for Family Enterprise at the Indian School of Business. “Premji and the board, in the ideal scenario, would like to bring in someone that they trust and think is the right person to take the organisation forward. In that sense, I see a lot of parallels between the Tata Group and Wipro.” As CEO, Kurien has delivered a mixed bag.

While the company’s growth rate lags the industry, he has created a leaner, more de-centralized and focused organization. In an interview with ET last month, Kurien, who headed Wipro’s eco energy business before being named to the top post, insisted the next CEO, too, would to be chosen from within the company. “All I can tell you is that the next leader of Wipro will come from within Wipro, won’t come from outside.

It will be a person who’s worked in Wipro for 2-3 years at a minimum, it has to be from within,” he said.

Organizational reshuffle
Wipro is already in the middle of an organizational reshuffle to consolidate its traditional commodities businesses and possibly bring its computer infrastructure management, and BPO and IT outsourcing businesses under one umbrella, the people mentioned above said. Wipro will also create positions for leaders to look after new initiatives in Wipro’s digital division, which focuses on areas such as cloud computing, Big Data and analytics.

Wipro Digital is currently overseen by Bhanumurthy BM, chief executive of application services and strategic alliances. Under a CEO-COO structure, the digital business may come under Kurien’s direct mandate. Kurien last week told analysts that Wipro would create a separate unit to focus on new initiatives. As part of this rejig, Dr Anurag Srivastava, who currently heads the business outcomes division, will be made in charge of platforms and automation, the people mentioned earlier said.

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