With the appointment of Sundar Pichai as a Chief Executive Officer, Google has joined a growing club of multinational corporations run by Indian-born managers. Pichai’s promotion is the latest in a series of appointments in the last decade or so where Indians have been thrust into the top job at global firms–Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft; Indra Nooyi, President and CEO at Pepsi; Ajay Banga, head of Mastercard; and Anshu Jain, former co-head of Deutsche Bank are just a few celebrated examples. One thing is clear, Indians excel at tech companies. But, What makes Indians so uniquely appropriate for the top slot at tech firms? Here are 7 Reasons Why Indians Make Great Tech CEOs:
1. Engineering Chops
Most of today’s Indian tech-CEOs are engineers first and foremost. They have emerged from many of India’s leading engineering colleges like the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) located across the country or from the plethora of regional engineering colleges that funnel talent to US graduate engineering programs in droves.
Satya Nadella studied at Manipal Institute of Technology, Adobe’s Shantanu Narayen, for instance, studied at Hyderabad’s Osmania University. Sunder Pichai is an alum of IIT Kharagpur, while Dinesh Paliwal, who was responsible for turning around high-end audio manufacturer Harmon, is a graduate from IIT Roorkee. Tech companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook like people who build things than who sell them.
Indians grow up in an atmosphere where cultural diversity – of language, faith, and caste, among other things – is a given. From an early age many Indians are well versed in English and speak it fluently and by the time they shift abroad they can combine their tech savvy with good communication skills. If you’d compare senior executives from China, South Korea and Taiwan, they aren’t as fluent, hence are unable to communicate properly.
3. Product Focused Careers
Almost all the Indian tech CEOs have been heads of product companies or have risen through the ranks by heading product divisions.
When Pichai joined Google, he led the product management and innovation efforts for a suite of Google’s client software products, including Google Chrome and Chrome OS, as well as being largely responsible for Google Drive. Prior to this he was an engineer and product manager at Silicon Valley semiconductor manufacturer, Applied Materials.
Before moving on to steer chip-manufacturer Globalfoundries, Sanjay Jha was most famous for his rescue act at Motorola, where he developed one of the most popular phones in the world–the Moto G.
Poverty in India has made Indians incredibly ambitious. Pichai had neither a television nor did his family own a car. They would either all hop on to their blue Lambretta scooter or use public transport. His father applied for a loan in order to pay for his air tickets and other miscellaneous expenses.
Google’s Amit Singhal said that, in the 70’s he used to watch the show in a black and white TV while he was growing up in Jhansi. Now, the guy from Jhansi is a celebrated computer scientist and is tasked with the search engine invented by Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
5. Understanding emerging markets
The importance of emerging markets in the world’s economy has grown dramatically in the last 25 years and these are a big target for tech companies as they see them as possible growth avenues.
Gurdeep Singh Pall at Microsoft heading the team behind Skype Translator, which is a tool that will magically translate a conversation between two people over the internet in different languages. Sundar Pichai, himself, launched Android One in India, an initiative for high quality affordable smartphones.
Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, was in Kenya while the company launched Windows 10 last month. He announced many initiatives in the poverty stricken country.
6. From Humble homes to Humility at Work
You can’t get more humble than Sundar Pichai. He grew up in the southern India city of Chennai in a house with just two rooms. Many other CEOs, like Sanjay Jha who hails from the small town of Bhagalpur, Bihar, share Pichai’s roots. Pichai has been famous at Google for being able to reach consensus in a fractious environment and was actually installed at the head of Android after the powers that be considered Andy Rubin (who sold Android to Google) too difficult.
Similarly, Narayen at Adobe weathered the trauma of being at the receiving end of Steve Jobs’ ire after Jobs deep-sixed flash from the iPad OS. The Adobe head is apparently a cool, understated customer.
7. Effective Relationship with Subordinates
Indian executives are inclined toward participative management and building meaningful relationships with subordinates. “The leadership style traditionally employed in India fostered an emotional bond between superiors and subordinates”. The feeling that the company genuinely cares for its employees, provided a strong bond of loyalty that went beyond financial rewards. In the “Indian club,” there are no executives known for a dictatorial management style.
Nooyi says: “You need to look at the employee and say, ‘I value you as a person. I know that you have a life beyond PepsiCo, and I’m going to respect you for your entire life, not just treat you as employee number 4,567’.”
When Nadella replaced Steve Ballmer at the helm of Microsoft, his high standing with the company’s rank-and-file was cited as a major reason for his promotion.