WSJ - Wipro chief richest Muslim entrepreneur in the world
Posted on: Jul 15, 2010 By: editor In: General
|Azim Premji, chairman of Wipro, the soap to software business conglomerate, has been named as the richest Muslim entrepreneur in the world by US-based business daily Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
In a special report, the WSJ said that Premji defied all the 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" - to emerge as one of the top 25 richest men in the world.
According to popular business and lifestyle magazine, Forbes, Premji is the 21st richest man in the world and the second richest Muslim in the world. Saudi Arabia's Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud is the richest Muslim in the world at No.13 ($20.3 billion).
"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 Premji a fortune of some $17 billion," the WSJ report said.
In the report entitled, 'How a Muslim billionaire thrives in Hindu India,' WSJ said Premji was way ahead of Russia's metal and real estate baron Sulaiman Kerimov ($14 billion), Kuwait's Nasser Al-Kharafi ($11 billion), Saudi Arabia's Mohammad Al Amoudi ($8 billion), UAE's Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair ($8 billion), Russia's Iskander Makhmudov ($8 billion), Saudi's Maan Al-Sanea ($7.5 billion) and Saudi Arabia's Sulaiman Al Rajhi ($7.5 billion) to emerge as the richest Muslim entrepreneur in the world.
WSJ also quoted Premji as saying in an interview: "We have always seen ourselves as Indian. We've never seen ourselves as Hindus, or Muslims, or Christians or Buddhists," adding that his secular and globalized outlook has helped him taste financial success.
However, success comes at a price, WSJ noted. "To many in India's Muslim community, Mr. Premji's enormous wealth, far from being inspiring, shows that success comes at a price the truly faithful cannot accept. They resent that Mr. Premji plays down his religious roots and declines to embrace Muslim causes � in a nation where people are pegged by their religion and where Hindus freely flaunt theirs," Yaroslav Trofimov, the writer of the article, said.
"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," Trofimov said.
The WSJ also noted how Premji has successfully countered the challenges of globalization by quoting him as saying, "All our hiring staff are trained to interview in English. They're trained to look for Westernized segments because we deal with global customers."
In doing business in India, he says, "I don't think being a Muslim or being a non-Muslim has been an advantage or disadvantage. It's just been based on the merits of the opportunities."
The WSJ also noted how Premji is quick to shrug off his religious identity to embrace a secular one. Unlike some Muslim community leaders, 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 Journal quotes the 62-year-old executive as saying.
Going further, WSJ noted how Premji's private philanthropy is dispensed through a foundation that is managed by a Hindu former Wipro executive and cuts across religious lines.
After the 9-11 terrorist attacks, US officials asked the Aziz Premji Foundation to help start an education programme that would instil moderate values in Islamic schools. The foundation declined the religion-focused project, according to its chief executive, because "we are working for all."
Premji, the Journal said, 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 was quoted as saying.
As a prominent Muslim businessman in the 1940s, Premji's late father, M.H. Premji, faced repeated requests for support from Pakistan's iconic leader and founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who offered the father a cabinet minister job in the new Muslim country.
But the Premji family did not believe in a religious state, and refused to move. "We did not think in these terms," the Journal quoted Premji as saying. "There were roots in India, there were roots in Bombay. Why should one in any way dislodge these roots?"
Though Premji has never faced any religious discrimination in India, he recalled how his Muslim heritage came in the way, not in India but at a US airport shortly after the 9-11 attacks.
OTHER MUSLIM ENTREPRENEURS:
Russia's Sulaiman Kerimov, a member of the state Duma (Russian Parliament), is an investment wizard who made in fortune in stocks. He has interests in metal and construction.
Kuwait's Nasser Al-Kharafi heads up M.A. Al-Kharafi & Sons, one of the largest diversified conglomerates in the Arab world, with interests in manufacturing, construction, banking, food and real estate.
Saudi Arabia's Mohammed Al Amoudi, whose interests lie in oil and gas, made his fortune in construction and real estate before betting on energy. His Swedish refinery Preem is now evaluating expansion possibilities into the renewable fuels sector, while his Svenska Petroleum is developing a new field off the Ivory Coast. Amoudi has invested more than $1 billion in Ethiopia, from hotels to gold mines. An ardent soccer fan, he sponsored the Confederation of East & Central African Football Associations soccer tournament last year.
UAE's Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair is the head of Mashreqbank, a leading United Arab Emirates commercial bank founded by his father during the Gulf's first oil boom in the 1960's. Though bank profits were down across the region in 2007, yet his family's diverse holdings in real estate, cement, contracting, publishing and petrochemicals, among others, has helped soften the blow. Food division, headed by brother Essa, includes the Middle East's second-largest flour mill and ubiquitous Masafi mineral water. Ghurair chairs Arab Business Angels Network, a nonprofit that funds startups by young Arab entrepreneurs.
Russia's Iskander Makhmudov started business initially with the Chernoy and Reuben brothers and their Trans-World Group, once the largest metals-trading operation in Russia. Now Makhmudov is the main owner of Russia's 2nd largest copper producer in terms of output. With other partners, he has also acquired stakes in large coal companies and transport-machinery production outfits.
Saudi Arabia's Maan Al-Sanea is a Saudi businessman who made his fortune securing contracting deals for construction of residential and industrial facilities in and around oil-rich Saudi Arabia's Al-Khobar region in the Eastern province. He suffered setback in May 2004 when 22 people were killed, several of them Western expatriates, in a terrorist attack at Oasis, his residential compound. Passionate about health care and education, Al-Sanea founded a private hospital and a support center for special-needs children and their families in the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia's Sulaiman Al Rajhi is the chairman and the majority shareholder of Al Rajhi Bank, Saudi Arabia's most profitable bank. Other business interests run the gamut from cement production to packaging to agriculture. Al Rajhi also owns one of the largest poultry-processing plants in the Middle East and promotes organic farming.