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Middle Managers Who Act As Routers Have No Future: Wipro CEO Kurien

Middle Managers Who Act As Routers Have No Future: Wipro CEO Kurien

Wipro CEO T K Kurien says major organizational restructuring lies ahead as large information technology (IT) services companies like his keep pace with the demands of a digitized world.


Significantly, he also speaks of an organization that is built on speed as opposed to being built on scale, which is how most IT services companies have grown traditionally.


Building such an organization will not be simple. In an exclusive interview with Boom Live’s Govindraj Ethiraj, he describes how the demands of speed will change the very nature of organisations like Wipro in coming years.


Ethiraj: What are the big trends that you are seeing in your customers particularly in the context of going digital?


Kurien: There are two sets of customers. It is evident that some 40% of capital expenditure for any enterprise is going to be in technology. The funny thing is that this 40% is no longer controlled by the Chief Information Officers (CIOs). So what’s happening is that in many organizations, the CIO’s role is slowly getting relegated to none.


Once you build for speed, you have to lower head count and be quick in terms of response and the ability to integrate and understand the customer’s problems.


Our job as an organization is to ensure that the CIOs remain relevant. At the end of the day, there are the biggest buyers, they have been our biggest buyers and it’s important for us to train them to be relevant to the future. And yet, we have to address a completely new segment out there. The problem with the new segment is it requires very different skill sets, different speeds. It’s not something that you can do using your current organization model.


So, in a way there are two ends of the spectrum that we are handling; one built for speed, and the other one which is built for scale. For large organisations like ours, innovation comes very hard. It’s much easier in small organisations. Once you build for speed, you have to lower head count and be quick in terms of response and the ability to integrate and understand the customer’s problems.


In Wipro, we have 700 people doing travel. That number would come down to 20.


Ethiraj: Give me an illustration of what is changing and which is exposing a gap in your learning?


Kurien: Let me give you one simple example that I talk about every day. A couple of years ago, a customer of ours came to us and said, “You know what, if I look at my enterprise, between operations and technology, I have today about 700 people handling the most basic function that runs at every enterprise, which is travel.”


So, the question that was thrown at us was that, “Hey listen! There are secretaries, there are travel departments, there are external vendors, everybody is working on this. So, is there a way by which we can fundamentally look at this process and see how you can disintermediate it?” So, about a year ago, we started developing a product that could do this.


Now we have come up with a product where if you are sitting in Bombay today and you want to go to Bangalore – on your mobile phone there’s an app; you click the app and you put your schedule on your calendar assuming that you have to be on Brigade Road in Bangalore at two o’ clock in the afternoon. It will then tell you specifically which flights you should take based upon the traffic in Bangalore.


Then, based upon the flights if you got linked back to a particular airline, only that airline will only show up in your schedule because that’s your corporate travel. The minute you press the button, tickets get booked, the boarding pass gets sent to you and the boarding pass also lands in your phone. That’s the level of integration that sits in these kind of applications.


Now, this came out of a customer idea. We have implemented with three customers already, we are implementing within Wipro. In Wipro, we have 700 people doing travel. That number would come down to 20. Just an example of how things can completely change when you use location, mobility and context, to really take information and use it effectively.


Ethiraj: You have been asked before about headcount, do you see it coming down?


Kurien: I think it’s going to be tough given the social context. It’s easy to do using technology; it’s tougher using it given the social context in mind. We, as an industry, have evolved by adding head count. We have got a whole bunch of middle managers and senior managers who have seen that model. Once you see something happening for 20 years, you believe that’s the only reality. That’s the problem. So, I think it’s going to be the biggest problem that we are going to have in that area is going to be internal change management than the external change management.


The challenge is going to be how we break up organization into two; one that runs fast and worries about growth, the other one worry that manages growth and worries about costs. So, it’s a different approach altogether.


Ethiraj: Are you also being self critical of your middle management?


Kurien: I think that’s true. It’s not middle management by itself and I wouldn’t define middle management very clearly. There’s middle management that really adds to technology and I think that’s fabulous to have. We absolutely need those guys. And those are people we really treasure.


There are other people who just manage people and that’s the game that you don’t want in the future. Because, having a person who sits as a router, routing traffic from one end to the other, communicating upward and managing downwards is not a function that you require long term. That particular skill set is not going to be required any more.


Ethiraj: As you look ahead, in the context of this digital future, what are the key challenges and opportunities ahead ?


Kurien: I think the opportunities are very clear. The opportunity would be really around building solutions for scale. This means that the partner ecosystems that we work with are going to be very different from the partner ecosystems that we were used to in the past. That’s the first big opportunity the way I see it.


The challenge is going to be how we break up organization into two; one that runs fast and worries about growth, the other one worry that manages growth and worries about costs. So, it’s a different approach altogether.


And the last piece which I think is an opportunity and a threat is that while we are trying to figure out the first two, our competitors and not sitting by waiting for us to figure it out. They are attacking us every day. And how do we manage competition given the customer base that we have. If you give up customer base today, tomorrow you are finished. That’s a reality.


Ethiraj: Who is your customer in a digital age?


Kurien: I think the CIO is going to remain a customer; he is going to become and remain an important customer. The other segments; the Chief Operating Officer (COO), the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) are going to become critical for us.


There is going to be a movement out. So for the CIO, the only example I am going to give is that if you go back to 1929, and if you go back to just the automobile industry, there used to be a role that was called the head of utilities. In Ford Motor Company in 1929, the second most powerful guy was the head of utilities because Ford ran the largest tire shop, the largest glass shop, the largest steel plant in the world and if you did not have utilities, you were dead in all this. Right now, you go back to Ford Motor Company and ask them who is your head of utilities; chances are that nobody will know about that guy.


Roles depending upon the complexity get relegated when complexity itself is removed. The future is going to be about simplification and removing complexity. So, the CIO’s role has to be completely morphed into becoming an integration officer rather than just remaining a technology guy or the information guy. I think that’s the challenge for them.

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  1. Red Wood

    February 21 at 2:12 am

    I disagree with Kurien’s view on CIO and middle level manager’s role. Although, they might be the traffic routers, they also act as communicators. Most of the Indian outsourcing firms have no clue how to talk to executives and give a canned answer. You need someone who can navigate the complexities and balance the expectations of the client and the firm. Kuries has typical technology mindset and is very short-sighted. Another disaster on cards for Wipro.

    • KS

      February 21 at 5:25 am

      Strongly agree. Middle level Managers are the ones who are conduit between the client, their staff and the upper management. Many of the upper management folks who sits in offshore don’t even know how to make a case with the client. Clients don’t even care them in many sites. Their work is to set unrealistic targets before their bosses and put enormous pressure on the hard working middle level managers. When things works, they reap the benefits. If it doesn’t , they nicely blame on their staff.

      • Sameer Sood

        February 22 at 9:58 am

        MIddle managers spotted!!

    • Kedar Kulkarni

      February 26 at 1:48 pm

      Panic ensues only when worthlessness is realised. No worries for MM who are not postmaters.

  2. saroj Mohanty

    February 21 at 7:29 am

    I agree with Kurien’s view , the future is not just routing the work and act as bridge between few layers .The new structure should align with the future growth, upto date with technologies which can help organisation in business growth.

  3. kiran

    February 21 at 10:55 am

    Its absurd that Middle managers are being pilloried by Kurien. The MM are the one’s who run the show. The big guys just make ‘strategies’ and that makes no readable sense to the ground workers. The middle managers are left with the rugged and onerous task of converting an idea to the relatable dollar. Its a tough task on them.

    However I agree that MM need to keep with pace, unfortunately they seldom get time to upskill or swimup.

    • Brijesh Pandey

      February 21 at 12:29 pm

      totally agree

  4. Viral Kothari

    February 21 at 11:19 am

    Does this Hippocratic Kurien born as senior manager ? was he never been a middle manager ? silly ass

    • Raj Thackersey

      February 21 at 3:25 pm

      Kothari your job is at risk. Think about who we will pay the EMIs.

    • Kedar Kulkarni

      February 26 at 1:45 pm

      He also said: I think that’s true. It’s not middle management by itself and I wouldn’t define middle management very clearly. There’s middle management that really adds to technology and I think that’s fabulous to have. We absolutely need those guys. And those are people we really treasure.

    • Shantanu Sen

      August 10 at 11:29 am

      As Raj has rightly noted, Kothari’s job is at risk. It is more so because he can’t even write proper English. LOL!

  5. Raj Thackersey

    February 21 at 3:27 pm

    The middle managers he talks about are the ones who write only two forms of emails.
    1. FYI
    2. FYA
    I know many in Wipro who live only by these two words, pretending to be in conference calls all day. For this category, time is up.

    • Ajit

      February 23 at 2:19 pm

      You are correct. But these FYI/FYA guys are very close to some senior management and will survive by bribe. The hardworking guys will suffer.

      • Raj Thackersey

        February 27 at 9:16 pm

        then you should do dharna against senior management

    • Ashish Ratna Nigam

      February 26 at 1:00 am

      Sir, not only in Wipro you can find such people in many other big organizations

      • Raj Thackersey

        February 27 at 9:31 pm

        u r right, such people are actually in majority.
        please name and shame them publicly.

        if you take a problem to such manager, he will turn your question into his question and then keep following up with you for the solution.

        So eventually you will never go to him or her to a solution.

        The reason why they are called middle manager is because they will always show you their middle finger.

  6. Vignesh M

    February 21 at 4:42 pm

    Could be a wrong opinion too by Kurien…MM’s are actually SME’s with X yrs of experience and act as a catalyst between the Higher ups and Clients n Operations / Implementation team on the floor like consultants n sr.consultants…This is a typical case faced currently in some IT Cos. where there were many MMs who were stuck in their comfort zones for yrs together and their work became monotonous and no scope for growth and had no scope but to continue warming their chairs   ..same case like sr consultants who kept doing their mundane coding work for yrs together w/o growth and one day the jr.consultant came into picture with a lesser pay pack and more productivity & made sr.consultants run for cover and upgrade themselves and give more efficiency n productivity   …EOD risk is there across job categories be it a consultant or a MM…so don’t have huge liabilities ,never know wht future holds for experienced professionals 🙂

  7. Michael Dsouza

    February 21 at 5:04 pm

    It is funny. he wants to break the organization that worries about growth and worries about costs. So, ultimately he wants a worried Wipro. Isn’t it already worried, Mr. Premji?

  8. mana Chandram

    February 21 at 11:34 pm

    Between 2001-2008, Top management in Wipro created lot of MM roles to full fill the operational work like resource requirement and project management paper work, most of technical people in Wipro especially in horizontals accepted this role in order to get promotion , wipro could have taken non IT people for this kind of work. smart people in this group even got promoted to General Managers .they created big mess in the organization Organization requires MM but they should be linked directly project and client . should be an answerable person. operational roles shouldn’t not be in project or technical role hierarchy

    Now all big services companies are becoming body shoppers at onsite and space providers at offshore .Most of the clients in US have started their IT division , they are fulfilling critical roles like project manager , architect roles directly ,earlier they used to take people from vendors , now clients need only only developers at onsite and offshore . which is a dangerous signal to project managers and program managers in service companies .

  9. Pravu

    February 21 at 11:39 pm

    MM SUCK all the money and constitute 80 % of Wipro strength . They hav a big fat salary while technical team works for peanuts. How are you giving a raise mr tk to the technical guys. 0.3% hike..shame on u.

  10. Pravu

    February 21 at 11:51 pm

    MM do nothing but walk the talk. They do not know the ABC of any subject but expect work to b completed within few hours. They are ignorant about any technological stuffs. They also take advantage that they are in C1 band and do not allow others to get promoted. By bringing in more tools like completing ucf etc, the 5yr or 10 yr olds are never promoted. What a bad strategy, if ur technical team does not grow then u wouldnt. Promotion rate is next to nil and hikes are 0.2-0.3% range. By bringing more bridges in between progression the technical team just sits in one position for long period doing the same work n workong for peanuts. Remove those hurdles first. All the talking will not work. U need to act

  11. Raj

    February 22 at 12:36 am

    Ha Ha…if someone says project managers are not required for a project and a project will run on its own then they have no idea what project management is. The example he quoted shows how operations are optimized and downsized. Clients should ponder whether they want to work with services companies that do no understand project management?

  12. Balu Thyagarajan

    February 23 at 12:58 am

    Can we start at the top please? What is the chairman and CEO of a
    company actually producing?

    They sit in meetings after meetings but wait what are they producing? Is
    that a difficult question?
    Hello let us not be stupid, they do contribute significantly. How? They
    set direction for the company, they steer the ship, like any captain they have
    to make decisions. This is the crucial activity they contribute within. Outside
    they have to make deals happen, both for alliances and large sales. Decide on
    investments for the future. Etc.

    Is it difficult to imagine what the chairman and CEO do at the level of
    the company is what the middle level manager does within a project or program.
    He also does not produce anything like the CEO. His job is to ensure that
    people are attacking the right issues, in the right way.

    Why is this role critical?

    The actual waste in services is wasted time, either doing the wrong
    things, for which the customer won’t pay, or idling because of lack of work.
    This waste cannot be recovered. Time is the one thing that is wasted in service
    industry and this is the critical point. A middle level manager prevents this
    critical loss.

    The other big problem is the CIO focus. This is absolute madness. IT is moving from CIO to Chief Marketing Officer. This is the fundamental mind set of the senior most management standing in front of the CIO and asking “Please tell us what you want”. The CIO is getting booted within the top layer exactly because he needs to contribute to business and not just talk technology.

    How is a vendor organization going to address that?

    A lack of investment in domain training and other training is to prevent loss of investment in a 20% attrition.

    What is worse that training an employee who leaves is not training an employee who stays.

  13. AP

    February 23 at 2:07 pm

    This is an interesting discussion. The Job Function of the Middle Management mentioned here probably needs to be better defined as the percentage of Pure operations MM vz Client Facing/Project Managers may not be the same in every organization as in Wipro.

    Project Managers and Client facing managers though thought as conduits end of the day ensure the delivery is done as well as handle the client expectations. I’ve seen several projects fail purely because these so called conduits didnt do their role well… The Techies are techies and do not really think of the implementation or getting things done. The role of project managers in ensuring that all road blocks and hurdles are dealt with to ensure that the project stays on schedule and budget is probably going unnoticed which has brought so much criticism here.

    To me, this MM seems to be referring to folks doing pure operations kind of work with no true client delvierables. This again, I blame it to the upper management as the process if streamlined and if red tapism removed would make life eaier for all. I am amazed with the kind of red tapism that has entered the IT industry. It seems no different from the govt. offices. This kind of innovation which can take out the red tapism would certainly take out jobs and make life simpler.

    I see the future as bright for folks who adapt to change and deliver.

    • Girish

      February 25 at 2:39 pm

      T.Kurien, Did he has some credentials / background… to increase Wipro’s kitty or his salary only thing he does is layoff which is unehtical. I can prove this. They sack people not based on performance but based on lobby. He just like to work as the way he drives BPO organization.
      Before him WIPRO had strong & very good reputation kudos to Suresh vaswani & Girish Paranjpe. He is just fooling Azim bhai Premzi….

  14. UnManifest

    February 24 at 8:14 am

    Scenario 1:
    Client: I want 1 + 2 + 3 = ?
    MM: FYI -> Developer
    Developer: 6
    MM: FYA -> Lead
    Lead: How 6 why 6 what 6 ?
    MM: FYI -> Developer
    Developer: + is addition 1, 2,3 are integers
    Lead -> MM: All Good
    MM: –> Senior Manager: Explains the whole story
    MM: Calls for a meeting
    SM: Appreciates the MM & FYI’s to General Manager
    MM–> Client = 6 & the story
    Scenario 2:
    Client: I want 1 + 2 + 3 = ?
    Developer: 6 & Story
    Client: Great! cc Developers Manager
    Job done

  15. Frodo Baggins

    February 24 at 9:17 am

    Indian Software which calls itself “technology” industry depends entirely on its “knowledge workforce”. Fat profit margins are driven by squeezing the workforce with targets that take away opportunities for the individuals to have normal family life. The squeeze if felt the most by the middle management who neither have the time to upgrade their skiilsets nor are given the space to do so in the continuous
    walk-a-lator environment of the company. Kurien speaks about postmasters, why does Wipro need a CEO? Let the senior managers of the company manage its growth and direction. Where is the need for a postmaster between employees and Premji?

  16. Sreedhar

    February 24 at 10:16 pm

    For supremacy Wipro is doing as usual, many done before similar grounds….please read…

  17. Bala

    February 25 at 4:40 pm

    I partially agree with TK, however, there are politics who do good at MM level. They are unseen because of politics by their MM. The appraisal system in most corporate is still following orthodox format. As a service industries CEO TK has to see manpower is important.
    Alternately, instead of sacking on MM layer he can hold the IIT and IIM hiring and look for transforming them into these objective which will be again cost effective.

  18. nagkumar

    February 25 at 5:28 pm

    Issue should not be about people/employees, it is unfortunate still IT service giants like TCS and Wipro still does not understand basics of technology business right. Focus has to be ‘Value for Money’ to the customer & ‘revenue margins’ to providers (which can take care of people cost and more). This way, if Indian IT Services is able to understand results produced w.r.t to value to customer, they should find ways to sell that rather than just showing certified people of x years of experience and billing for hours. T&M is a Trillions of dollars bubble for generations, still going strong as decisions makers are unable to learn even from their dozens of failures.

    Kill T&M business model and also never get into Fixed Bid, Invent next new business models (TejaSoft calls this alternate model as Time and Accountability – T&A, Accountability agreement decides the value to customer)

    From providers side, people of various skills are required to fulfill client needs. May be with this thinking, providers can work on how to use its people in order to see Optimum margins as per their internal context. I see this as future business completion propelling systems innovation towards right direction.

    Systems, Innovate at least now.. else next generation will have to work under $1 rates…(current clients rates itself are under poverty). During such situation, I am sure CEO would start saying, we don’t need testers, developers, offices etc.. Again, talking of business around just people but not about people deliveries value is the worst insanity.Even in this modern society, such insanity accepted and sells too well.

    Society & Govt needs to leave ‘Typist Attitude’ way of earning for living. Work for ‘Professionalism for Living’ : In Mr. Modi’s words, it is the time to set new trend for ‘Swatchh IT Services’

  19. Raj

    February 26 at 8:21 am

    Looks like he is setting the stage for next layoff at Wipro

  20. Sreekumar

    February 27 at 1:04 pm

    Well, how can the guys who do the ‘ground-work’ or the real work decipher the loud words such as ‘weathering the strom in the horizon’, ‘tough times ahead’, ‘the prospective looks good’, ‘customer is king’ ar any other cliche jargons that comes from the top-management, if they don’t have the MM/ PM level who can break those jargons into comprehensible fields? Mostly, MM puts some identifiable sense into those loud-talks by the top-guns and then only they act as ‘routers’. Those who sit at the top of the tree shouldn’t forget that fact

  21. Nilesh Shenai

    February 27 at 3:38 pm

    I think the next step will be , only CEO working in the company as rest are useless as per Mr.Kurien Theory.

  22. Vishnu

    March 4 at 5:56 pm

    IT is not a chai shop to add and remove T Kaka, unable to deliver and you blame on head counts, service industries are stuck in the middle, the concept of IT outsourcing is to milk the cow until it’s last drop, if it can’t then it is the ability of the person milking…he has his head stuck in the middle now, he knows nothing but to talk head counts. They do not want to pay for quality and there is no training, there are no proper air-conditions, the work environment sucks, people are expected to work in a herd.

  23. Brad Myers

    April 1 at 3:43 am

    Nowhere in TKK’s interview does he specifically mention Project Managers.

    He purely mentions Middle Managers.

    Middle Managers are often departmental managers, and are usually present in organisations to reduce the number of direct reports Execs and Senior Managers have reporting to them.

    Project Managers perform a delivery, client facing role, and should be a billable resource.

    Middle managers are an internal, non-billable resource.

  24. KFPanda

    July 25 at 9:44 pm

    A senior Manager , Never defines responsibilities of his sub-ordinates(MM) and never publishes transparently. Because He expects his work to be done from them. He never bothers about , if they are performing their role or not , It will have cascading effect..
    Senior Management created MM for having personal Assistants for them.

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