Why Indian-born leaders dominate American tech’s top ranks

When Satya Nadella took over as Microsoft CEO in February 2014, he inherited a toxic culture at a company that is a tech dinosaur. Bill Gates, its founder, was notorious for scolding employees, and Steve Ballmer, Gates’ successor, continued harsh business tactics loathed by partners. Microsoft lost the smartphone battle, and the technology platform its technologies were designed for, the desktop, gave way to the cloud.

As I explained in my book from asc to exponentialNadella chose to focus first on changing Microsoft’s culture. Indian by birth, and with Buddhist beliefs, he was determined to turn the company into one that embraced what he curiously called “learned everything”, as opposed to its then “know-it-all” worldview. He explained that old aggressive behaviors were no longer welcome. Refusing to tolerate anger or yelling in executive meetings, never raising his voice or showing outright anger toward employees or executives, and never writing angry emails, he has consistently worked to create a more comfortable environment.

As a result of the cultural shift and the strategic changes it has enabled, Microsoft’s market capitalization has increased from approximately $300 billion upon Nadella’s rise to $2.5 trillion today, making it one of the two most valuable companies in the world.

Sundar Pichai also inherited a company with cultural problems. Google has been known for its permissive workplace cultureAnd Where sexual relations between senior executives and employees led to internal tensions. In his gentle and unassuming Indian style, Pichai has sailed company on calmer waters. It’s been extraordinarily successful — as have Indian tech CEOs like Shantanu Narayen of Adobe and Jayshree Ullal of Arista Networks. Besides the tech sector, other Indian-born CEOs have made their mark, including Indra Nooyi at PepsiCo and Ajay Banga at Mastercard.

But how are Indians considered even in such high positions? What explains their success as founders of a tech company?

I came to the United States in 1980 and observed the development of Valley leadership firsthand during the founding of two tech companies and one of them going public. Later, at Duke University, I researched what gave Indians like myself such an advantage.

According to research by UC Berkeley Professor Annali Saxenian, as of 1999, immigrants accounted for a third of the science and engineering workforce in Silicon Valley, and Indian CEOs ran 7% of high-tech companies. In 2006 my research team teamed up with Saxenian to modernize its work and found that the percentage of startups founded by immigrants had risen to 52.4%, with Indian-born executives founding 15.5% of tech companies in Silicon Valley – even though they make up 6% Only the working population of the valley.

We found that 96% of immigrant entrepreneurs involved in engineering and technology have completed a bachelor’s degree, and 74% hold a master’s or doctoral degree. grades. Within this group, the Indian founders were educated at a variety of universities; For example, the famous Indian Institutes of Technology made up only 15% of the founders of the company.

Culture, as much as education, is the key

There is no doubt that education gave the Indians an advantage. But that doesn’t explain why the boards of companies like Microsoft, Google, IBM and Twitter choose foreign-born techies over equally qualified Americans. The answer may lie in cultural values, upbringing, and conflicts.

In a land of over a billion people, most of whom suffer from endemic corruption, poor infrastructure and limited opportunities, it takes a lot to simply survive, let alone move on. Indians learn to be resilient, fight endless obstacles, and make the most of what they have. In India, you learn how to overcome the problems that an oppressive society and state create for you. Entrepreneurship, along with creativity and resourcefulness required to deal with all obstacles, is a part of life.

In the absence of a social safety net, family values ​​and support are everything, the family plays a very important role, and family members provide all kinds of help and guidance to those in need.

Indians have many racial, ethnic, sexual and sectarian prejudices – as do people all over the world. However, in order to achieve success, they learn to overlook or adapt these biases when necessary. There are six major religions in India, and the Indian constitution recognizes 22 regional languages. Each region of the country has its own customs and character, and people are receptive to differences in attitudes and beliefs, especially in the context of business.

Then there is the humility that comes from moving to a new country. Talk to almost any immigrant, regardless of their origin, and they will share stories about leaving a social situation behind in their home country and working their way up from the bottom of the ladder in the adopted land. It’s a humble process. You learn many valuable lessons as you start from scratch and work your way to success.

These are all traits any board will recognize — and appreciate — especially when the surrogates are arrogant company founders who think they deserve their jobs. It is these traits that enable the CEO to change the culture of the company. This is what I think has given Indian CEOs the advantage.

This may be why Twitter’s board of directors unanimously approved Jack Dorsey’s recommendation to appoint India-born Parag Agrawal as his replacement. This is a cultural shift that Twitter may need above all else.

Twitter has received a barrage of justified criticism over its toxic work culture and insensitivity to abuse on its platform. In addition, Jack Dorsey was a part-time CEO who also ran the payments company Square and advocated for blockchain and cryptocurrency. Dorsey’s predecessor, Dick Costolo, was someone I personally became entangled with when I noticed a problem with the company’s chauvinistic culture and its all-male board of directors. As many CTOs do, his response has been to attack me publicly, rather than listen to criticism.

It’s a response that none of the Indian CEOs I know will give – which is why they are chosen to run America’s leading technology companies.

Vivek Wadduwa is the co-author of From incremental to exponential: How large companies can see the future and rethink innovation, a new book on how businesses can thrive in this age of rapid change.

This story originally appeared on Fortune.com

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