THE CORNER OFFICE JUGGERNAUT
THE WEEK|October 24, 2021
FROM THE CLICHED GENERALISATION OF DORKS CRUNCHING CODE IN SILICON VALLEY, INDIANS HAVE MOVED UP THE RANKS TO STAKE THEIR CLAIM ON CORNER OFFICES IN SOME OF THE WORLD’S BIGGEST AND MOST PRESTIGIOUS COMPANIES
K. SUNIL THOMAS

SUNDAR PICHAI, 49

CEO, ALPHABET (HQ: US) SINCE

OCT 2015

COMPANY REVENUE $182.53 billion

PLACE OF BIRTH MADURAI, TAMIL NADU

EDUCATION BTech (Metallurgical engineering), IIT Kharagpur

Master's (engineering), Stanford

MBA, Wharton School of Business

CAREER Applied Materials

McKinsey & Company

Google/Alphabet (since 2004)

Spearheaded development of Android One and Chrome OS

It is customary for visiting heads of governments to meet not just ministers and diplomats, but also captains of industry and leaders of society. It was during the visit of Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh to the US in 2009 that Pepsi chief executive officer Indra Nooyi, one of the earliest Indians to head a Fortune 500 company, found herself on such a list.

“When he got to me, prime minister Singh exclaimed, “Oh! But she is one of us!” Nooyi recounts in her autobiography, My Life in Full, released recently. President Barack Obama, with a big smile and without missing a beat, responded, “Ah, but she is one of us, too!”

A highlight of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s official visit to the US in September was a meeting with the CEOs of five multinational companies. However, unlike a formal introduction before a state banquet or a tete-a-tete on the sidelines of a conference—where the personalities are selected keeping in mind the sensibilities of diversity and representation—the selection was purely based on business interests.

The five global CEOs who had an extended pow-wow with Modi were all heads of companies doing, or hoping to do, major business with India. There was an American solar company that is making a multi billion dollar investment in India, a real estate firm and even a drone manufacturer with whom India was hoping to ink a substantial deal on AI-powered military drones.

Two of them were Indians— Shantanu Narayen of Adobe and Vivek Lall of General Atomics Global Corp. They made the cut not because they were of Indian origin, but because they led global corporations that were discussing business with one of their prominent markets. “As an Indian American, what could be more inspiring or a matter of pride than seeing what the prime minister is doing to really encourage startups and investments in India,” said Narayen after the meeting.

Equally inspiring has been the rise of Indian business leaders like Narayen himself, or Sunder Pichai of Google or Satya Nadella of Microsoft, on the global corporate stage. From the cliched generalisation of being a dork crunching code on his laptop in Silicon Valley, Indians have moved up the ranks, and in perception, to stake their claim on corner offices in some of the world’s biggest and most prestigious companies.

On October 1, Shailesh G. Jejurikar took over as chief operating officer of Procter & Gamble, one of the world’s biggest consumer goods companies. The Mumbai-born IIM Lucknow-alumnus was the CEO of the fabric and home care division of the company, its largest business segment, which makes brands like Tide and Ariel. Interestingly, Jejurikar’s replacement as CEO in the fabric and home care division was another Indian, Sundar Raman.

An estimate says about 30 per cent of Fortune 500 companies have Indians at their top echelons, a third of engineers in Silicon Valley are Indians and one in 10 of the world’s high-tech companies have Indian CEOs. As per a finding by Indiaspora, a non-profit organisation of Indians living abroad, 58 Indian-origin executives head various companies across 11 countries. Combined, these companies employ 36 lakh people and earn $1 trillion (about ₹74 lakh crore) in revenues. Their combined market capitalisation is around $4 trillion.

Though many of these CEOs are based in the US, the Indiaspora 58 come from places as far apart as Canada and Singapore, and include not just immigrants from India, but also those of Indian-origin from countries like Uganda, Ethiopia, and the UK.

“I am amazed to see how far we have come in terms of representation of business,” said Raj Gupta, one of the first Indians to head a global company. He became CEO of Rohm and Haas, a multinational chemical manufacturer, in 1999. Gupta and Nooyi were pioneers of the Indian global CEO phenomenon.

Nooyi’s achievement, of course, was nothing short of trailblazing when she first became president of PepsiCo in 2001 and ascended to the CEO spot five years later. Not only was she a woman of colour, but she grew up in India and moved to the US only when she was 23. And Pepsi was not just a company that made fizzy drinks; it was one of the strongest symbols of American lifestyle and culture.

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