Parag Agrawal, who was named Twitter CEO this week, joined at least a dozen other Indian-born technicians in the corner offices of Silicon Valley’s most influential companies.
Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai, and the top management of IBM, Adobe, Palo Alto Networks, VMWare and Vimeo are all of Indian origin.
People of Indian descent make up only about 1% of the US population and 6% of the Silicon Valley workforce, yet they are disproportionately represented at the top. Why?
“No other nation in the world ‘trains’ as many citizens as gladiatorial as India does,” says R Gopalakrishnan, former executive director of Tata Sons and co-author of The Made in India Manager.
“From birth certificates to death certificates, from admission to school to getting a job, from infrastructure inadequacies to insufficient capabilities,” growing up in India prepares Indians to be “natural managers,” he adds, quoting the famous business strategist. Indian CK Prahalad.
Competition and chaos, in other words, enable them to solve problems and, he adds, the fact that they often prioritize professional aid over personal aid in an American culture of overwork.
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“These are the characteristics of top leaders anywhere in the world,” says Gopalakrishnan.
India-born Silicon Valley CEOs are also part of a minority group of four million that is among the wealthiest and most educated in the United States.
About one million of them are scientists and engineers. More than 70% of the H-1B visas – work permits for foreigners – issued by the United States go to Indian software engineers, and 40% of all foreign-born engineers in cities like Seattle are from India.
“This is the result of a drastic change in US immigration policy in the 1960s,” write 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In the wake of the civil rights movement, quotas of national origin have been replaced by those that privileged skills and family reunification. Soon after, highly educated Indians – first scientists, engineers and doctors, and then, overwhelmingly, software programmers – began arriving in the United States.
This cohort of Indian immigrants “resembled no other group of immigrants from any other nation,” say the authors. They were “triple selected” – not only were they among the privileged upper caste Indians who could afford to go to a renowned college, but they also belonged to a smaller splinter that could fund a master’s degree in the United States, which many of the CEOs possess. . And finally, the visa system has further restricted it to those with specific skills – often in science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM as the preferred category is known – who meet the “needs of the high-end labor market” of states. United.
“This is the cream of the crop and they are joining companies where the best rise to the top,” says tech entrepreneur and academic Vivek Wadhwa. “The networks they built [in Silicon Valley] they also gave them an advantage: the idea was that they would help each other. ”
Wadhwa adds that many of the Indian-born CEOs have made their way up the corporate ladder as well – and this, according to him, gives them a sense of humility that sets them apart from many founding CEOs who have been accused of being arrogant and titled in their vision and management.
Wadhwa says men like Nadella and Pichai also bring a certain amount of caution, reflection and a “kinder” culture that makes them ideal candidates for the best job, especially at a time when the reputation of big tech has collapsed amid hearings of the. Congress, quarrels with foreign governments and the growing gap between the richest in Silicon Valley and the rest of America.
Their “discreet and non-abrasive leadership” is a huge plus, says Saritha Rai, who covers the tech industry in India for Bloomberg News.
The diverse society of India, with so many customs and languages, “gives them [Indian-born managers] the ability to juggle complex situations, particularly when it comes to downsizing organizations, ”says Vinod Khosla, an Indian-American billionaire businessman and venture capitalist who co-founded Sun Microsystems.
“This, plus a ‘hard work’ ethic, prepares them well,” he adds.
There are more obvious reasons too. The fact that so many Indians can speak English makes it easier for them to integrate into the diverse US tech industry. And the emphasis placed by Indian education in math and science has created a thriving software industry, training graduates in the right skills, which are further strengthened in the best engineering or management schools in the United States.
“In other words, the success of Indian-born CEOs in America is as much about what’s right for America – or at least what was right before immigration became more limited after 9/11 – as much as what it is. right for India, ”economist Rupa Subramanya recently wrote in Foreign Policy magazine.
The huge backlog in US green card applications and growing opportunities in the Indian market have certainly dulled the appeal of a career overseas.
“The American dream is replaced with the dream of a start-up based in India”, Rai says.
The recent emergence of India’s “unicorns” – companies worth more than a billion dollars – suggests the country is starting to produce major tech companies, experts say. But, they add, it is too early to say what global impact they will have.
“The startup ecosystem in India is relatively young. The role models of successful Indians in both entrepreneurship and executive ranks have helped a lot, but role models take time to spread,” Khosla says.
But most role models are still men, as are nearly all Silicon Valley CEOs born in India. And their rapid rise isn’t reason enough to expect more diversity from the industry, experts say.
“Female representation [in the tech industry] it is not at all close to what it should be, “Rai says.
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