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EPA/Jagadeesh NV
Changing of the guard.
NEW CEO

Azim Premji is betting on an old TCS hand to remake Wipro

By Itika Sharma Punit

Wipro, India’s third-largest IT services company, has named a new chief executive officer and is counting on him to help close the gap with competitors. After all, he used to work for one.

Abidali Z. Neemuchwala, who spent over two decades at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) before joining Wipro in April 2015 as group president and chief operating officer, will take charge at Wipro on Feb. 1. He replaces current CEO TK Kurien, who in a Jan. 4 press release lauded his successor’s “deep understanding of technology, business vision, sound judgement, and … innate ability to bring people together.”

“I have no doubt that Abid is the right leader to lead Wipro in its next phase of growth,” Kurien said.

The appointment was widely anticipated over the last few months, analysts said. “Wipro hired Neemuchwala in April and since then there was a buzz that he will be the next CEO,” Sudin Apte, head of the advisory and research firm Offshore Insights, told Quartz. “The company created a way for him to be a leader, and some of the recent exits like Sangita Singh and Ayan Mukerji were probably linked to this appointment.”

Mukerji, former head of Wipro’s media and telecom business unit, left the company last November after nearly three decades. And Singh, who lead the healthcare and life sciences unit, quit Wipro last month after a 23-year-long stint.

Neemuchwala, 48, lives in Dallas with his wife and three children, and Wipro has not yet made clear if he would be relocating from the US to India, where most of the company’s employees are located. CEOs of most Indian IT outsourcing companies typically have been based in India, although some have broken the norm in recent years. Vishal Sikka, who was appointed as the CEO of Infosys in August 2014, lives in California, and divides his time between the US and India.

Challenges for the new CEO

Neemuchwala—an alumnus of National Institute of Technology, Raipur, and Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai—is a veteran in the IT outsourcing industry. But “he comes from the delivery and technology side and he has been in client-facing roles only in the last few years. So his experience in that area is limited,” Apte noted.

In his present role at Wipro, Neemuchwala is responsible for business operations, strategic marketing, and key geographies like Continental Europe, Africa, and Latin America. In his last role at TCS, he was the head of the company’s business process services.

If Neemuchwala is lacking anything on the client-facing side, Wipro chairman Azim Premji made it clear in the news release announcing the promotion that the new CEO will have ample support available to him from Kurien, who will become executive vice chairman and continue to report to Premji. (Kurien also will remain a member of the board, through March 2017.)

“As Executive Vice Chairman, TK will enable Abid by leveraging his deep relationships with customers and chart out a new technology roadmap for Wipro,” Premji said in the press release. “The new structure will ensure smooth succession and will build on the solid foundation we have developed to drive superior growth and profitability.”

That foundation aside, Wipro has continued to lag peers including TCS and Infosys for several years now amid an evolving business environment. So perhaps Neemuchwala’s biggest challenge—similar to what his predecessor, Kurien, has faced—would be to help the company grow faster.