In 1969 A Sivasailam, then Chairman, Amalgamations, instituted the MMA Business Leadership Award in memory of his father and founder, S Anantharamakrishnan. Wipro’s Azim Premji received the 19th award.
The first award was presented to J R D Tata. It became an important event for applauding business leadership and also for the special lecture delivered by the recipient.
In the first two decades of independence, Anantharamakrishnan acquired, in quick succession, a number of British companies from the departing ex-pats and also set up new industrial units under the umbrella of Amalgamations. Then employing over 16,000, the group, built around the automobile sector, was the largest light engineering enterprise in the south in the 1950s and 1960s. Mallika Srinivasan, his grand daughter and chairman of the group’s flagship company, TAFE, made an impressive presentation on the invaluable contributions of the founder.
Third recipient from a southern company…
Over 50 years, Amalgamations had presented the award to 19 leaders. Understandably, these belonged to institutions at the top – the Tatas, Birlas, Mafatlals, Singhanias, Mahindras, Kirloskars, Munjals, Mittals, BHEL, IDBI, NDDB, RBI…. Understandably, with the relatively modest size of its enterprises, it took 25 years to present the award to a leader of a southern enterprise, Mammen Mappillai of MRF, in 1994. Two other awardees of southern enterprises were from Bengaluru, N R Narayana Murthy (1998) and Azim Premji (2019).
In this long list of business luminaries, Azim Premji is famous for his philanthropy apart from business excellence. He has committed a substantial portion of his wealth to charity focusing on education and healthcare. His acceptance speech had a rich flavour of humility: “our success in business has taught us many things. But in social issues, we have to start afresh. You have to be prepared for the processes of consensus, facing large complexity in development and execution, deeply conflicting but equally valid with demands, very often not even knowing the next step forward. We do learn and will contribute, but need much more patience and humility than in business.”
His two role models…
Premji made glowing references to his mother, a physician, who was a role model in her dedication to philanthropy and service. She was one of the prime founders of the Children’s Orthopaedic Hospital in Mumbai that pioneered the treatment of polio-affected children in Asia.
Premji also referred to Mahatma Gandhi for his moral leadership: “those with the privilege to be in a leadership role will realise that the power of this will vanish with time; but moral leadership endures indefinitely… All of us have a duty to contribute to society. The practice of moral leadership will help us in this. It’ll also help us in business. We need to work together to develop the India we have envisioned in our constitution – with the idea that is equitable, humane and sustainable,” said Premji.
The largely attended meeting was addressed by N Vaghul (former Chairman, ICICI Bank), Vikram Kirloskar (President-CII), M M Murugappan (Member of Award Selection Committee), MMA’s A Venkataramani and Gp Capt R Vijayakumar.
Amalgamations Chairman, A Krishnamoorthy, presented the award and read out a well-crafted citation on Premji’s multifarious qualities.