How a Muslim Billionaire Thrives in Hindu India

premji

“The world’s richest Muslim entrepreneur defies conventional wisdom about Islamic tycoons: He doesn’t hail from the Persian Gulf, he didn’t make his money in petroleum, and he definitely doesn’t wear his faith on his sleeve.”

“A native of Mumbai, Azim Premji has tapped India’s abundant engineering talent to transform a family vegetable-oil firm, Wipro Ltd., into a technology and outsourcing giant. By serving Western manufacturers, airlines and utilities, the company has brought Mr. Premji a fortune of some $17 billion — believed to be greater than that of any other Muslim outside of Persian Gulf royalty.”

“Unlike those observers and Muslim community leaders, Mr. Premji bristles impatiently when the plight of the broader Muslim populace is cited. “This whole issue of Hindu-Muslim in India is completely overhyped,” the 62-year-old executive says.”

“Mr. Premji has mentioned his Muslim background so rarely in public that many Indian Muslims don’t even know he shares their heritage. None of Wipro’s senior managers aside from Mr. Premji himself are Muslims. The company maintains normal working hours on Islamic high holidays. Among its 70,000 employees, there’s only a “sprinkling” of Muslims, according to Sudip Banerjee, president of a division that accounts for a third of revenue.”

“In an interview at Wipro’s sleek Bangalore campus, which had just been visited by a group of Israeli businessmen, Mr. Premji scoffed at the idea he should display his Muslim identity or champion the cause of Muslim advancement in India. “We’ve always seen ourselves as Indian. We’ve never seen ourselves as Hindus, or Muslims, or Christians or Buddhists,” he said.”

“These secularist values came to him naturally. There was no madrassa in Mr. Premji’s own education. He attended a Mumbai Catholic school, St. Mary’s, and then studied electrical engineering at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.”

“As a prominent Muslim businessman in the 1940s, Mr. Premji’s late father, M.H. Premji, faced repeated requests for support from Pakistan’s fiery founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who offered the father a cabinet-minister job in the new Muslim country. But the Premji family didn’t believe in a religious state, and refused to move. “We did not think in these terms,” Mr. Premji says. “There were roots in India, there were roots in Bombay. Why should one in any way dislodge these roots?”

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