Being the Midas of global outsourcing might not make Azim Premji popular in the U.S., but back home in India he's a role model. The story of how the Stanford-educated Premji transformed Wipro, his family's vegetable-oil business, into one of the world's most important outsourcing companies is already part of Indian business folklore. A growing number of U.S. and European firms rely on the Bangalore-based Wipro to handle their software needs, keep their databases and computer networks up and running, and answer calls from customers. That's made Premji, 58, Wipro's chairman and principal shareholder, India's richest man (he's worth an estimated $6.7 billion). Yet Premji's influence comes as much from his iconoclastic personality as from his sheer wealth. He is revered by Indian businesspeople for insisting that Wipro will not pay bribesa common hazard of doing business there.
Premji is a new kind of Indian plutocrat. He flies economy class and seems happiest when hiking, reading or discussing the foundation he has set up to promote primary education. And he defends India's outsourcing industry: Wipro and its peers help U.S. firms grow by keeping their costs low and raising their productivity, says Premji. "And if American companies don't grow," he points out, "they don't create jobs."
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