Thierry Delaporte, the new CEO of Wipro Limited – accompanied by colleagues Milan Rao, Gurvinder Singh Sahni, and Laura Langdon – gives HFS the story behind the story as he sets sail with Wipro.
Strong operator… tough decisions… aggressive changes. That’s a triptych summary from my recent post which drives into Wipro’s bold appointment of industry titan Thierry Delaporte as CEO. The course now turns from firm to fluid with the story behind the story from Thierry himself – who guides us on his journey of navigating north stars, surprises, principles, and people. And breaking walls…
I once called for a ruthless CEO with teeth at the helm here, and while I stand by that reckoning, I do believe we’ve met the human in the middle of the sea change…
Phil Fersht, CEO and Chief Analyst, HFS Research: Thanks very much, Thierry, for getting some time with us today; I know you’ve only been in the job, what is it, like, two or three weeks?
Thierry Delaporte, CEO, Wipro: Three weeks.
Phil: Three weeks! So, it would be great to hear a bit more… I learned a lot more about you, when you took the job, and the one thing I learned a lot was that you’re a very international person, you’ve lived in a lot of different countries and experienced a lot of different cultures – it would be great to hear a bit more about yourself, and where you came from, background, and then your career. Did you always intend to do a job like this? And was this your expectation, in recent years?
Thierry: Okay, sure. So, you’re right, … although my accent keeps reminding everyone I’m French, I’m probably one of the least French people you can find in France. I spent most of my life abroad. If you look at my career, 25 years, I’ve spent 21 years of those 25 years abroad. I lived in the UK; I lived in Switzerland, in Zurich, in Spain. I lived in Singapore and in Sydney, Australia. I lived in the US for 15 years, and, every time, my wife and my kids were with me, so four kids, a wife – incredibly resilient, as you can imagine, following every new adventure, with a lot of energy and passion.
And, frankly, you know, I was known at Capgemini as being one who’s really tried, pretty much, everything. I’ve been a finance person… Actually, I started as a member of the Internal Audit team for two years, and then moved as a CFO of subsidiaries in different continents, and then [moved on] to cover sales. I was the Head of Sales, at some point in time, for about a third of the group of Capgemini, which I’ve never seen a finance person becoming a salesperson [smiles], and then managing operations, in different places, or different businesses across the organization. So, I’ve been in consulting, I’ve been in outsourcing, and I’ve been in the apps world of Capgemini. And then, from that experience in operations, spent time in running a business in BFSI, before coming back to Paris to be Chief Operating Officer of the group. This year, I completed 25 years with Cap Gemini. It was an amazing ride, but it also got me thinking that it was time to pursue new adventures outside the organization.
“One of the lessons I’ve learned in life, Phil, is that you must let life surprise you. The only thing you have to do is don’t miss opportunities.”
I don’t think you can ever say that you were born to be a CEO. One of the lessons I’ve learned in life, Phil, is that you must let life surprise you. The only thing you have to do is don’t miss opportunities. So opportunities will come, and many will surprise you, but just not saying no is a good enough decision to make, in order to not miss these opportunities that come. And so I try to apply this in my life.
Phil: Excellent. So, as you looked at opportunities, and you obviously saw what was happening with the economy and the pandemic, etc., and then the Wipro thing came up, did you immediately think, “Yes, that’s the one for me”? Or was it kind of a long, drawn-out thought process, on [moving] from Cap to Wipro. You were at one company for a very long time, and the cultural shift…. Was it an immediate decision, that you thought, “This is what I want?” Or did it take some time to cultivate with you?
“So, I’m going to tell you in full transparency what happened.”
Thierry: So, I’m going to tell you in full transparency what happened, Phil. I made up my mind mid-Feb and informed the CEO and the Chairman of Capgemini.
“I had the plan to sail transatlantic, from Newport to Brittany, in May. So that was my plan. I had the boat, I was going to do it with a friend of mine…”
My immediate plan was to take a six-month sabbatical – I haven’t had a single day sabbatical since my career started, so this was going to be my “me time.” And I’m a sailor – I had the plan to sail transatlantic, from Newport to Brittany, in May. So that was my plan. I had the boat, I was going to do it with a friend of mine, and that was the plan that I had sold to my wife.
“But then, literally, days after I went on sabbatical, my phone started to ring.”
But then, literally, days after I went on sabbatical, my phone started to ring. And it’s very interesting, and more of a surprise, because there was no announcement of me leaving. It was just being on sabbatical, that, actually, the industry knew it rapidly. I was starting to get calls on opportunities. And I knew that if I was going, it was for something I wanted to do. And I was not in a hurry. I really wanted to make the right choice.
“And I knew that if I was going, it was for something I wanted to do. And I was not in a hurry. I really wanted to make the right choice.”
I’ve known Wipro for twenty plus years. As I said to the team several times, I’ve been competing with Wipro many times. I won often – I lost often, as well. And so, I’ve really learned to respect tremendously this brand, the people, and the success of this company. I still remember the time when Wipro was still a rather small company, but growing every year at an exceptional pace.
“I don’t know any other company that has such a sense of purpose, where it’s not only about delivering the numbers… The fact that this is a company where 67% of its profit is going to philanthropic activities is very much talking to my view of what capitalism should be.”
Then I had conversations with Founder Chairman Mr. Azim Premji and Chairman Rishad Premji. This is when I felt this is a unique company, because I don’t know any other company that has such a sense of purpose, where it’s not only about delivering the numbers – it has a much broader ambition. The fact that this is a company where 67% of its profit is going to philanthropic activities is very much talking to my view of what capitalism should be.
“And then I felt, ‘Okay, this is an incredible company.’”
So I went and met both of them… actually, I started with three hours with Rishad, and it was really an outstanding, natural, easy connection between us, and then I met Azim Premji, and then several members of the board. And then I felt, “Okay, this is an incredible company.”
“And so, with humility, I would say I’m convinced – I’m seriously convinced – that there is a good match, and that we have a wonderful page to write. And so then, the decision was made – everything based on principles.”
I feel that the challenges that this company has, I can really have an impact. And so, with humility, I would say I’m convinced – I’m seriously convinced – that there is a good match, and that we have a wonderful page to write. And so then, the decision was made – everything based on principles. It’s people, of principles agreeing on things, and I think we were very aligned, culturally very aligned, on many, many different fronts.
Then I started to engage with the team before July 6, which is the official day one. I met all the members of the Executive Committee, I spent hours with Rishad, and engaging with Saurabh (President and CHRO) connecting on many different fronts, so that, you know, when I actually started, on day one, I was immediately hitting the ground. The Executive Committee has 17 people. By the time I officially joined, I knew all of them and what they did. So, it was a really great start.
Phil: And obviously at an interesting time, Thierry. I’m getting tired, talking about the shock and the change. I think what’s happened has happened – now we’re in a new world, and we just have to play by different rules and expectations. Obviously, digital has gone from being aspirational to something that is suddenly forced upon us. And we have a very different economy; one that’s not going to change any time soon. So, does this level the playing field? And is this an opportunity for Wipro to get ahead of the market? Do you feel that everybody has kind of a clean slate? Or do you think this is just going to be a very challenging time, and we just need to hunker down and see through the next year or two?
Thierry: So, there’s no doubt that we are at a moment of our history where you cannot imagine that what we’ve been through, over the last five months, will have no implications. I believe that what we’ve learned over the last five months is that, in a context where you are suddenly not able to connect physically with people every day, that there is a need to connect always more; connect more with your clients, connect more with your employees. In the context where, basically, it’s no longer about going and visiting, but connecting.
“The dimension of trust is more important than ever, and I am convinced that one of the implications of this crisis, going forward, is that the length of relationship will matter more than ever.”
The dimension of trust is more important than ever, and I am convinced that one of the implications of this crisis, going forward, is that the length of relationship will matter more than ever. So I think, more than jumping from one partner to another for 3% of savings, I think our clients will value more than ever the value of commitment and long-term partnership. I think it’s true for our employees, as well.
I think that we’ve also seen that companies that have not moved fast enough in their digital agenda have been struggling, and I think they didn’t expect to have such a brutal event confronting their own strategy. I think the reality is that there will be an acceleration of the rotation of the offerings, of the rotation to digitally transform organisations across industries.
So, yes, it’s going to change things for us, because what it means is that your legacy offerings, I would say, the more traditional offerings of the past, are going to shrink even faster. You need to accelerate your rotation to the new, because this is where the investments are going to happen. So, I absolutely agree that, yes, I feel that in arriving at this point in time, I have an incredible opportunity to reset the stage, somehow, for our business, and make some bets.
“I am a great believer in strong partnership. I have built my success, over the last years, in focusing on a few strong partnerships, and it has paid off multiple times. And so, I’m convinced that it will be even more important in this new world.”
We are going to make some bets, I cannot tell you which ones, you know, this is what I’m working on right now, to define where I want to make the bets. I believe we will see efforts, or focus, on simplifications.
We will see focus on rationalisation, on consolidation, to build bigger partnerships. I am a great believer in strong partnership. I have built my success, over the last years, in focusing on a few strong partnerships, and it has paid off multiple times. And so, I’m convinced that it will be even more important in this new world.
Last, you know, looking at the market, but also looking at our employees… when I look at our employees, this is our asset. Right? This is what makes us different. It’s very weird, to start with, because I have no clue how long I will have to wait before I can actually physically meet people from Wipro. You know? They might wonder if I’m a real person, or if I’m just a hologram [laughs].
“I think connecting with our people will be my obsession for the next weeks. One of the beauties with Teams or these tools, is that you can actually break a lot of the hierarchy. Everyone on the screen is equal sized, and there’s no one ahead with people standing in the back. It also breaks a lot of the walls; walls between one office and another, or a business unit and another, or a language and another. And so, it’s wonderful, because you really can now drive a lot more alignment. So, I will use this new world to the benefit.”
I think connecting with our people will be my obsession for the next weeks. One of the beauties, with Teams or these tools, is that you can actually break a lot of the hierarchy. Everyone on the screen is equal sized, and there’s no one ahead with people standing in the back. It also breaks a lot of the walls; walls between one office and another, or a business unit and another, or a language and another. And so it’s wonderful, because you really can now drive a lot more alignment. So, I will use this new world to the benefit. It will never be the same, I think.
You will never be able to ask your employees to be at the office five days a week, if this is not what they want. But I think, equally, it will not be a time where, everyone is working from home every day, because you will miss a lot, in terms of connection, in terms of engagement. But I think it’s going to be a world that requires fluidity and agility; which is fine, I’m very comfortable in this environment.
Phil: Yes. And, to me, a new CEO within three weeks? This wouldn’t have happened, if we were back in the analogue days, right? It would’ve taken probably six months or something. [Laughs].
Thierry: Phil, today… Today, I have spoken to six clients.
Phil: Wow =)
Thierry: And since day one, I have spoken to 35 clients already. 35 clients. When I say spoken, it’s basically I have met 35 clients. And, you know, I’m just increasing the speed. I’m engaging more than ever. If I had to jump on a plane for the meetings I have had today, it would have taken me more than a week because of the different locations.
Phil: And if I could tell you how our business as a research company has changed, it’s beyond belief, in terms of the speed we can get things done, the extra time our analysts have, because they’re not traveling all the time to deliver work. And the closeness we’re getting with our clients. This was terrifying for a couple of months, Thierry, and then we realized we have to move everything we have onto a digital setting. But once you get ahead of this, and embrace it, and realize this is how we do business, the benefits are just astounding and surprising. And I’ve been reading and hearing about entire transitions now being done on Teams. I mean, you can do a hell of a lot now that you didn’t realize you were capable of, without physically being with people.
Thierry: I absolutely agree.
Phil: …this is a huge, huge gamechanger in how we operate.
Thierry: Agreed, Phil.
Phil: Right. So I’ve got one last question, then. If you could have one wish for the industry, in the next couple of years, what would that be?
“…the beauty of our industry is that our assets are our people – our enabler is technology.”
Thierry: One wish for the industry. Continue to maintain the balance between technology and people. So I think, you know, the beauty of our industry is that our assets are our people – our enabler is technology. And my wish is that we continue along this line, and we don’t take it for granted, or we don’t go in a world where technology replaces talent and people, because I think we would take the wrong direction.
Phil: Very good. That was excellent, Thierry, I really appreciated the time… and I know our audience will when they read this.
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