India-born Silicon Valley CEOs: A ruthless background behind the success?

Parag Agrawal. Photo: collected

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Parag Agrawal. Photo: collected

Parag Agrawal was recently appointed CEO of Twitter, again raising the question of why so many Indian-born techies have the offices of the world’s most influential Silicon Valley companies.

People of Indian descent make up roughly one percent of the U.S. population and six percent of Silicon Valley’s workforce – and yet are disproportionately represented in senior leadership, reports the BBC.

Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai and the main bosses of IBM, Adobe, Palo Alto Networks, VMWare and Vimeo are all of Indian origin.

“No other nation in the world trains so many citizens in such a gladial way as India,” said the BBC, quoting R Gopalakrishnan, former executive director of Tata Sons and co-author of “The Made in India Manager” . .

“From birth certificates to death certificates, from school admissions to getting a job, from insufficient infrastructure to insufficient capacity”, growing up in India allows Indians to be “natural managers”, adds. he, citing famous Indian business strategist CK Prahalad.

Sundar Pichai. Photo: AFP file

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Sundar Pichai. Photo: AFP file

Competition and chaos make them adaptable problem solvers. They also often favor professional helpers over personal helpers in an overworked American office culture, Gopalakrishnan adds.

“These are characteristics of the greatest leaders all over the world,” he says.

India-born Silicon Valley CEOs are also part of a minority group of four million people who are among the richest and most educated in the United States.

About a million of them are scientists and engineers. More than 70 percent of H-1B (Foreign Work Permit) visas issued by the United States are granted to Indian software engineers, and 40 percent of all foreign-born engineers in cities like Seattle come from from India, according to the BBC report.

“This is the result of a radical change in US immigration policy in the 1960s,” according to the authors of “The Other One Percent: Indians in America”.

In the wake of the civil rights movement, quotas of national origin have been replaced by those that favor skills and family reunification. Soon after, highly educated Indians – scientists, engineers and doctors at first, then overwhelmingly software programmers – began to arrive in the United States, the BBC explains from the book.

Satya Nadella. AFP archive photo

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Satya Nadella. AFP archive photo

This cohort of Indian immigrants “was unlike any other group of immigrants from any other nation,” say the authors. They were “triply selected” – not only were they among the privileged upper caste Indians who could afford to go to a reputable university, but they were also from a small group that could fund a master’s degree in the United States, whom a lot of Silicon Valley CEOs own. And finally, the visa system has narrowed it down further to people with specific skills – often in science, technology, engineering and math or STEM as the preferred category is known – who meet “high-end labor market needs” the United States.

“It’s the cream of the crop and they are joining the companies where the best reach the top,” reports the BBC, citing tech entrepreneur and scholar Vivek Wadhwa as an explanation. “The networks they have built [in Silicon Valley] also gave them an advantage – the idea was that they would help each other. “

Wadhwa adds that many India-born CEOs have also worked their way up the corporate ladder – and this, he says, gives them a sense of humility that sets them apart from many founding CEOs who have been accused of being arrogant and allowed in. their vision and management.

Wadhwa says that men like Nadella and Pichai also bring a certain prudence, thoughtfulness and a “softer” culture that makes them ideal candidates for the highest office – especially at a time when the reputation of big tech has faded. collapsed amid congressional hearings, arguments with foreign governments and the growing rift between the wealthiest in Silicon Valley and the rest of America.

There are also more obvious reasons. The fact that so many Indians can speak English makes it easier for them to integrate into the diverse American tech industry. And India’s emphasis on math and science education has created a thriving software industry, training graduates with the right skills, which are further enhanced at top engineering or management schools in the United States, reports the BBC.


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Richard V. Johnson