The face of the global tech industry is rapidly changing as companies are moving to adopt diversity, equity and inclusion, thereby giving anyone with the desired talent, skill and experience the opportunity to lead the biggest tech companies in the world. At the helm of this uprising are the Indian tech CEOs who have relentlessly worked their way from the ground up to disrupt the industry.
According to a report by Gulf Today, 30% of the Fortune 500 Companies have Indians as their CEOs, which is continuing to display an upward trend. One-third of all the engineers present in Silicon Valley today are from India, and 10% of the entire world’s high tech company CEOs are of Indian origin. Some names of inspiring tech CEOs that immediately spring up are Sundar Pichai of Google and Satya Nadella of Microsoft, who are leading this revolution. Parag Agarwal, CEO of Twitter, is the latest to join this elite club but definitely not the last.
However, with this substantial rise, the question arises, why are only Indian CEOs being nominated for these positions when there are equally qualified Americans who would be up for the role? According to Vivek Wadhwa, another Indian-born tech industry legend, India is particularly good at producing CEO talent due to the resilience, diversity, and humility of Indian candidates.
Due to these three components, Indians are adept at dealing with one of the biggest problems faced by the tech industry: toxic work culture. While many leading tech companies have struggled with this predicament, Indian CEOs have found the perfect solution: promoting an inclusive environment where employees are valued for their work.
A similar situation conspired at Microsoft when Satya Nadella took over as CEO of Microsoft in February 2014. He was called in to reign over a company known for its toxic culture. Due to this, the company lost the battle for smartphones and became known as the dinosaur of the tech industry. However, with Nadella at the helm, he led his employees to embrace a growth mindset changing it from a ‘know it all to a ‘learn it all.’ He moved the culture from a place where employees felt the need to singularly be the source of all knowledge to a culture of collaboration that leveraged diverse knowledge to develop unique solutions.
This other significant shift was the evolution of Microsoft’s celebrated performance system, which highlighted collaboration and encouraged supporting the success of others—a departure from the forced ranking stack ranking one.
As a result of these cultural shifts and the adoption of new strategies, Microsoft’s market capitalization increased from roughly $300 billion at Nadella’s ascension to $2.5 trillion today, making it one of the two most valuable companies globally.
Sundar Pichai of Alphabet also faced a similar dilemma and inherited a company with grave cultural problems. It is ironic, especially since Google is now hailed for their best practices and promotion of inclusion and diversity. So what changed?
When Sundar Pichai took over Google as the CEO, it was known for a highly liberal workplace culture, where sexual relationships between top executives and employees generated internal tensions. However, with his humility and gentle demeanor, Pichai navigated the company with a 180 shift to an excellent work culture celebrated globally. In addition, Pichai was also the brain behind Google’s famous search toolbar. The toolbar led to a massive increase in user searches for the organization and was later merged with Google Chrome. Chrome then became the most-used web browser in the world under Pichai. His humble demeanor along with his impeccable decision making has led to him to rise to the top in record time.
He attained extraordinary success—as did Indian tech CEOs such as Shantanu Narayen of Adobe and Jayshree Ullal of Arista Networks. Some other prominent Indian Leaders in the Tech Industry are Arvind Krishna of IBM, Anjali Sud of Vimeo, and Aneel Bhusri of Workday, amongst others. One of the most influential Indian-origin businesspeople in the United States is in financial services. The President and CEO of Mastercard, Ajaypal Singh Banga. A Sikh born in Pune, Maharashtra, he is also Chairman of the U.S.-India Business Council. Another star in this sector is Ajit Jain, the Vice-Chairman of insurance operations for Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.
- Gopalkrishnan, the co-author of The Made in India Manager, attributed this rise in Indian CEOs to the rearing and grooming of the Indian manager, which sort of creates a pipeline of potential leaders. He says, “From birth certificates to death certificates, from school admissions to getting jobs, from infrastructural inadequacies to insufficient capacities,” growing up in India equips Indians to be ‘natural managers.’ As Indians are taught to navigate the challenging competitive labyrinth of bureaucracy, they learn to be problem solvers and solution-centric, which puts them in good stead as they become CEOs.
According to Vinod Khosla, Co-Founder of Solar Microsystems, India’s diverse society, with its many customs and languages, “Offers them [Indian-born managers] the flexibility to navigate challenging conditions, especially scaling organizations.” He added, “This, along with a ‘hard-work’ culture, correctly sets them up.”
In addition, the concentration on math and science in Indian education has resulted in a robust software industry, which trains graduates in the necessary skills, which are then reinforced in top engineering or management schools in the United States. Parag Agarwal, CEO of Twitter, Arvind Krishna, CEO of IBM, and Nikesh Arora, CEO of Palo Alto Networks, are alumni of leading IIT institutes of India that have helped set them up for success.
Elon Musk, Founder of Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink and The Boring Company, has also hailed the rise of Indian CEOs, saying – “The USA has benefited greatly from Indian talent – they are chosen as CEOs for the value they bring to the table.”