Sunday, March 7, 2021

What Indian Australians can learn from Pichai and Nadella

Reading Time: 3 minutesThe announcement that Indian born Satya Nadella was to be appointed as CEO of Microsoft was hitting the headlines just as I was in Silicon Valley dining with a friend. While expressing delight at this appointment, he recalled having interacted with Nadella during school days in India and having recently met him at a BBQ in the Valley.

We all now know the story of Satya’s modest beginnings, and of his rise once he moved base to the US, to take over as CEO of Microsoft.
In weeks past, Indians globally are acknowledging the corporate achievements of another one of their own, Sundar Pichai. Just 43 years of age, Pichai now heads Google, which is said to be the second most valuable brand in the world (behind Apple) with a valuation of $107.4 billion.
A Harvard Business Review study has found that 30% of chief executive officers of Fortune Global 500 company CEOs (that is, CEOs who are heads of companies headquartered in a country not their own) are from India. One only has to look at other international corporate giants such as Citibank, MasterCard and Pepsi to note how well India-born Americans have made it in one of the toughest economies of the world where competition is cut throat.

While this is a matter of pride for India, it is also be a matter of soul searching: would these talents have flourished just as well, had they decided to stay on in India or even return to India after their higher education overseas? CEOs of companies salivate as they think about having access to the Indian market with its middle class of over 600 million, yet very few overseas Indians – whether from the US,UK or even Australia – actually pack their post MBA bags and go back to India. It seems that success comes easier overseas, than at home.
The problem in India is that companies are still run along family lines. Not only corporates but political parties even run their fiefdom internally, as is clear in the case of the Gandhis or the Yadavs or the Thackerays. Corporate India believes in keeping it in the family. One just has to look at the Ambanis, the Birlas and the Thapars. Why, even when Ratan Tata was to retire, no outsider was brought in; rather Cyrus Mistry, a member of the extended Tata clan, got the nod. If a progressive company like Tata could not find a global CEO, then there is less chance for smaller companies. The argument of local market knowledge and culture may have merit, but if Indian corporates need to reach greater heights, then perhaps change can bring in the required stimulus.
While India and its corporates sort this out, the take away for Indian-Australians is that there must be no glass ceilings in the business world. If one has the skills and is able to deliver, then there is no reason to doubt that it is possible to reach the corporate pinnacle of one’s desired career. So how about an Indian-Australian as head of CBA or NAB or BHP in the not too distant future?

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Pawan Luthra
Pawan Luthra
Pawan is the publisher of Indian Link and is one of Indian Link's founders. He writes the Editorial section.

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