Five reasons why Indians make great tech CEOs

Satya Nadella, Shantanu Narayen, Sanjay K Jha, Rajiv Suri and now Sundar Pichai all share one thing in common. They are of Indian descent and are CEO’s of some of the most influential technology companies in the world.

Nadella was made the CEO of Microsoft after heading its Cloud business for years in early 2014, succeeding Steve Ballmer. Narayen was made the CEO of Adobe, the company which is known to make professional software tools like Photoshop and Premier Pro back in 2007. Sanjay K Jha was the guy who was Motorola’s CEO, when the company was sold to Google in 2011. After Google, Jha is the CEO of Global Foundries one the largest semiconductor companies in the world. Jha previously was also Qualcomm’s Chief Operating Officer. After Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia’s devices business, Rajiv Suri was named CEO as he was heading NSN, which basically is the new Nokia.

And earlier in the day, Sundar Pichai was announced as Google’s new CEO succeeding co-founder and ex-CEO Larry Page as its third CEO. Though this came with a caveat, as Page wasn’t relinquishing control of the company he founded. Instead, he founded Alphabet, a parent company for a collection of companies which also now includes Google.

One thing is clear, Indians excel at tech companies. More so than their Chinese counterparts. But why does it happen? Here are five reasons.

#1 English, Vinglish

One has to hand it to the competitive education system and the fact that India was primarily ruled by the British in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, which has resulted in a situation where many schools in the country are English medium. This basically means that 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. Their products may be as good, if not better, if the communication isn’t there, then it’s a futile cause.

#2 Aspiration

Poverty in India has made Indians incredibly ambitious. Sundar Pichai is a good example. He went to IIT Kharagpur, then managed a scholarship to Stanford University and finally did an MBA from the school of Wharton in the University of Pennsylvania. If you look at Google’s Amit Singhal, who’s a Google Fellow, SVP and their “Search” engine master, he’s always talked about dreaming up the Star Trek computer. He has often said in interviews 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. In the last 14 years at Google, he’s done a pretty good job, many would think!

#3 Understanding emerging markets

Emerging markets are a big target for tech companies as they see them as possible growth avenues and their future cash cows. Therefore, it is prudent to have individuals who understand the problems of countries like India deeply. Gurdeep Singh Pall, at Microsoft, runs the Skype team. He is one of the people to have had the hand in the invention of VOIP technology and now at Microsoft he’s heading the team behind Skype Translator. Skype Translator is a tool that will magically translate a conversation between two people over the internet in different languages. His team is building products that will bring the world closer. He’s also one of the first senior executives in Silicon Valley of Sikh descent. 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. Executives of Indian descent certainly are able to zero in on the problems of the third world.

#4 Engineers at heart

The most obvious reason for Indians to be targets for senior executive positions at tech companies is that most of them are coders and engineers at heart. Tech companies, like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, appreciate engineers more so than people with business administration and marketing backgrounds. They like people who build things than who sell them. At Microsoft, when the board was looking to succeed Steve Ballmer, Bill Gates was of the view that the company needed someone who was an engineer at heart with the business smarts. Satya Nadella, who was described as the company’s “Cloud Master”, was the man. Google has done the same thing with Pichai who holds a bachelors degree from IIT Kharagpur, MSc from Stanford University and an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania.

#5 Humility at work

It can be argued that CEOs of Indian descent are humbler and, hence are good at rolling back the dice so that they can make amends before a situation spirals out of control. The same can’t be said about visionary tech founders like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg or even Steve Ballmer for that matter. Nadella rolled back Microsoft’s overtures in mobile, and has put it on a more open path, undoing a lot of edicts that were in place when the company was under Ballmer or Gates. He even apologised immediately after a comment that was deemed sexist. Pichai has united Google unlike any senior executive at the company. In fact, he was brought in to head Android after Any Rubin who founded Android and sold it Google was deemed too confrontational.

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