How Wipro’s values came to be

How Wipro’s values came to be

In the mid-1970s, Premji decided to formalise the company’s belief system. Wipro was still a tiny company, with 450 laborers and 75 white-collar staff at the factory, and a skeleton crew of 12 people, including Premji, at the headquarters in Bombay. But Premji had begun hiring formally trained managers out of the Indian Institute of Management, and as he began to diversify into new markets, he was hiring people from other companies. “We said we must be sure we stand for something as a company. We must be sure we know what we are looking for when we hire,” he recalls. The company examined the ethics and values statements of high-profile companies worldwide and talked to business ethicists in academia. Group discussions were held within the company, drawing in not just managers but rank-and-file employees. “We asked, ‘What do you think is true to us? What is the quest we should build the company around?” Premji says.

Wipro beliefs

Ultimately, they came up with a list of six Wipro beliefs:

  • Respect the individual

  • Be a business leader

  • Accomplish all tasks in a superior manner

  • Maintain the highest ethical standards

  • Serve customers well

  • Measure performance based on long-term profitability

Every few years, Premji would reexamine the company’s beliefs. It was a way of engaging the management team and employees in an exercise that would put them in touch with one another on a fundamental level and force the entire organisation to take stock.

By the late 1990s, the company Premji had taken over in 1966 had undergone a complete transformation and was suffering a bit of an identity crisis. Vegetable oil was less than half of the business. Tech was dominant. But Wipro was also selling everything from lightbulbs to facial soap. Meanwhile, it was hiring like mad—thousands of fresh-faced college graduate engineers with only the foggiest idea of what they were getting into. What was Wipro? What should it mean to employees? And what should it mean to customers and partners? Premji had hired a marketing consultancy, Shining Strategic Design (SSD), to improve one of his soap brands, but he later decided on a complete brand makeover.

SSD is run by Shombit Sengupta, a Bengali who had gone to Paris as a young painter in search of the bohemian life and who isn’t afraid to shake up his clients. One of his first moves was to have a survey firm interview Indian customers about their opinions of Wipro. The news was not good. While people had positive views of Wipro’s products, they saw the company itself as low-profile, cold, and hard to do business with. There was a lot to fix. Ultimately, a project that had begun as a brand touch-up would evolve into a major revamp of the company’s brand and beliefs—a process that lasted for two years.

It was a massive effort. Externally, SSD performed a series of in-depth focus groups with people in each of India’s regions. Then it held a series of discussions with the company’s executives and came up with a proposal for a new brand identity. The idea was to develop a new value statement tied in with the new brand identity. Rather than being inwardly focussed, as the earlier beliefs had been, it would encompass employees, customers, and business partners.

Much care was given to each element of the makeover. SSD proposed replacing the company’s old logo, a large black W, with a multicoloured flower, which the company calls a “rainbow flower”. Each colour in the new logo had a symbolic meaning—thoroughly vetted with customers. Yellow meant prosperity; blue, openness; and red, integrity. Sengupta even modified the petals of the flower when people in focus groups said they were too sharp.

He wanted Wipro to seem soft and approachable. The tag line went through many iterations before they settled on “Applying Thought”. As part of its effort to be seen as a global company, Wipro vetted its logo with Western customers including Microsoft, Cisco Systems, and Allied Signal. The same level of scrutiny was used when it came to reworking the company’s values statement.

At the meeting, they laid out their rationale for all the changes. Premji went along with some, but he would not agree to one: the idea of dropping integrity as one of the company’s values

The proposed changes were debated throughout the company. Some employees recoiled at the idea of changing the beliefs. Several members of the senior management team objected to the new logo and slogan. A flower didn’t seem to them to be an appropriate symbol for a tech company. And they thought “Applying Thought” might give employees the idea that they could sit around all day thinking rather than getting things done.

“The brand team had a harrowing time convincing top management,” says Vineet Agrawal, now the president of Wipro Consumer Care and Lighting who spearheaded the overhaul. Even Premji balked at some of the changes that were proposed, and that caused a bit of drama.

A matter of integrity

Anand Kumar, now a general manager in the BPO unit, recalls that the proposal was presented to Premji at a Thursday afternoon meeting that lasted until 10:30 p.m. “Premji was fuming—and even threatened to call off the whole project, stating that the beliefs were core to Wipro,” Kumar recalls.

The next day, Premji met with a small group of executives for breakfast. At the meeting, which took place at Premji’s house, they laid out their rationale for all the changes. Premji went along with some, but he would not agree to one: the idea of dropping integrity as one of the company’s values.

“Mr Premji made the inclusion of integrity in the values nonnegotiable,” says Agrawal. The new code, renamed Wipro Values, had four pieces, as they were stated on Wipro’s website:

  • Human values: We respect the unique needs of customers and employees. We are sensitive to their differing needs in our interactions with them.

  • Integrity: We deliver what we commit. With honesty, fairness, reliability, and uprightness in whatever we do.

  • Innovative solutions: We consistently offer novel and superior solutions to satisfy the needs of the customer.

  • Value for money: Delivering higher value to the customer through continuous improvement in quality, cost, and speed.

The values were later boiled down into the Wipro Promises, a short and simple phrase that could be memorised easily and printed on the back of business cards. It said: “With utmost respect to Human Values, we promise to serve our customer with Integrity, through Innovative, Value for Money solutions, by Applying Thought, day after day.” At the same time, Wipro launched a massive ad and marketing campaign to make the world aware of its new identity and values.

Don’t set the way you express your values in stone. At Wipro, nothing stays the same for long. In late 2005 and early 2006, the company embarked on yet a third values exercise. “We are asking ourselves: Are we practicing it, are we true to it, have the circumstances changed?” says Premji. Indeed, a lot had changed.

In 1998, the company had just 6,000 employees. At the beginning of 2006 there were 60,000. In 1998, it had just $444 million in revenues. For the fiscal year ended in March 2006, revenues topped $2.4 billion.

Excerpt from ‘Bangalore Tiger’ by Steve Hamm. Price: Rs 299. Reproduced with permission © 2007, Tata McGraw-Hill Publishing Company Limited. E-mail: vishwanath_mum@tatamcgraw-hill.com