Indian-born CEOs: the flavor of the season

Indian-born CEOs: the flavor of the season

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By Shree Lahiri

Google. Microsoft. Pepsi. Adobe. Cognizant. SanDisk Corporation. NetApp.

All big international corporates. But, what is the common thread that links them? They all have Indian-born CEOs at the helm.

As the image of India has been seeing a sea-change in the global arena, with the PM on a singularly focused mission, Indian-born CEOs have been trending in global companies, and have been leaving a blazing trail from Day 1.

Sundar Pichai, CEO, Google
We can start this trail with Sundar Pichai, CEO, Google. Hailing from Tamil Nadu, he worked at McKinsey & Company before he joined Google. Armed with degrees to his credit – an MS from Stanford University and an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Pichai is lauded for building a great team and outstanding products that gives a lead over other companies.

Even Larry Page, Co-founder Google acknowledged in a blog post that he felt very fortunate to have someone as talented as him to run Google, for this meant that he would get free time to continue to scale their aspirations. As CEO of Google, the soft-spoken 43-year-old Pichai now heads core tech projects like Google search engine, ads, maps, apps, YouTube and Android system.

Pichai’s talent and performance is undoubtedly appreciated, as Page pointed out that Sergey and he “have been super excited about his progress and dedication to the company”. Page ensured that Pichai would continue to stretch boundaries and ensure that Google in its new form could “continue to make big strides on our core mission to organise the world’s information”.

Pichai was an achiever in his student days. A topper in Metallurgical Engineering, from IIT Kharagpur, he saw a meteoric rise in his career from holding significant posts in Google to becoming its CEO. After joining Google in 2004, Pichai led the product management and innovation efforts for key products including Google Chrome and Chrome OS and Google Drive. Now the way forward for him is only – up and up, as he climbs the corporate ladder.

Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft
One of the biggest success stories of an Indian in the technology space comes from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

Nadella made history, by being the first Indian to head the world’s biggest software company, after a career of two decades. Now the highest-paid executive in the United States, Nadella himself admitted that heading Microsoft was ‘beyond his dreams’.

After joining Microsoft in 1992, Nadella quickly became known within the company as a leader who could span a breadth of technologies and businesses to transform some of Microsoft’s biggest product offerings, according to a report put out by Microsoft. Even Forbes magazine ranked Nadella among the world’s 72 most powerful people.

His Indian story can be traced to Hyderabad, and he holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering in electronics and communication from Manipal Institute of Technology. He did his Masters in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He put in a stint at Sun Microsystems before he joined Microsoft.

It is obvious to all, today how he is making an impact in Microsoft.

Indra Nooyi, CEO, PepsiCo
We have been exposed to Indra Nooyi, the CEO of PepisCo, from the time she took over the reigns. In fact, she created history too. One of her famous observations was when she remarked that “there are no executives in the ‘Indian Club’ who possess a dictatorial style of management. They value each employee as a person.”

Recently, as many as three Indian origin persons have been named among 100 highest-paid CEOs globally with PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi and LyondellBasell’s Bhavesh Patel making it to the top ten list compiled by Equilar. Chemicals company LyondellBasell Industries’ top executive Bhavesh V Patel was ranked sixth on the list with a total compensation of $24.5 million (roughly Rs 163 crores), while Nooyi, the Chief Executive of PepsiCo was ranked eighth on the list with a total pay of $22.2 million (roughly Rs 147 crores).

Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft was ranked 26th on the list of 100 highest-paid CEOs with a total compensation of $18.3 million (roughly Rs 122 crores).

Shantanu Narayen, CEO, Adobe
Heading one of the world’s leading software companies – Adobe is Shantanu Narayen who’s from Hyderabad. Nine years after joining Adobe, Narayen was appointed as CEO in 2007.

One of world’s top paid tech CEOs, he is lauded for his leadership qualities, technology insight and operational proficiency, which helped Adobe expand its products portfolio.

Narayen holds an electronics engineering degree from Osmania University, MBA from the University of California, Berkeley, and Masters in computer science from Bowling Green State University, Ohio.

Francisco D’Souza, CEO, Cognizant
One of the youngest CEOs in the IT industry, 46-year-old Francisco D’Souza joined Cognizant as a co-founder in 1994, the year it was started as a division of The Dun & Bradstreet Corporation. And, he took over as CEO of the company when he was just 38 years old.

Considered one of the best CEOs, Francisco D’Souza has nearly 25 years of experience in the information technology industry.

Francisco, who hails from Goa, is a member of the Board of Directors of General Electric Company. He serves on the Board of Trustees of Carnegie Mellon University, the Board of Trustees of The New York Hall of Science and the Board of Trustees of the US India Business Council.

He received his Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of East Asia and his MBA from Carnegie-Mellon University.

Sanjay Mehrotra, CEO, SanDisk Corporation
Sanjay Mehrotra is co-founder, president and chief executive officer of SanDisk Corporation, a global leader in flash memory storage solutions. Earlier, Mehrotra served as SanDisk’s president and chief operating officer in 2006.

Under his leadership, the company expanded its focus to include solid state drive (SSD) solutions for the enterprise, as well as new growth strategies for the mobile and client computing segments.

Mehrotra received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences from the University of California, Berkeley, and is a graduate of the Stanford Graduate School of Business Executive Program (SEP).

George Kurian, Chief Executive Officer, NetApp
US-based computer storage and data management company NetApp also has an Indian at the helm. George Kurian who joined the company in 2011, where he was responsible for the solutions portfolio and joint partner technology integration. He was appointed as CEO in June 2015.

Earlier, as executive vice president of Product Operations, George was responsible for the strategy and development of NetApp’s product and solutions portfolio.

Prior to joining NetApp, George was vice president and general manager of the Application Networking and Switching Technology Group at Cisco Systems. He has also worked with Akamai Technologies, McKinsey & Company and Oracle Corporation. George Kurien did his schooling at St Joseph’s Boys High School, Bengaluru, after which he joined IIT Madras. But he left IIT to pursue a degree in electrical engineering from Princeton University and a master’s degree in business administration from Stanford University.

Incidentally, it’s interesting to note that his twin brother Thomas Kurian is president at Oracle.

True leaders – in every which way!

Additionally, these CEOs are known to be patient, humble, persistent and future-oriented – traits, which are the guiding light for any leader.

Thus, it comes as no surprise that the unique process of mentoring, hard work and dedication by Indian-Americans themselves, have worked out in a way which promptly put the ‘Indian Club’ of executives onto the global arena.

Suffice it to say that they are doing full justice to the demands of their high-profile jobs. And, creating waves, in the bargain!

About the author

Shree Lahiri is Consulting Editor at NGI, and her expertise lies in communications. She enjoys writing and believes the power of the pen. She was Features Editor at Mid-Day, Pune and Deputy Editor at

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