Business Management

Satya's Significance: What Microsoft CEO Pick Says about India

The appointment of Satya Nadella as Microsoft CEO was significant in many ways. For one, Microsoft remains one of the world’s largest organisations and Nadella is only its third leader. Also, the company is at an inflexion point as it fends off competitors born in the web era, designing software from bottom up on notions of ubiquitous access, inherent mobility, collaboration and shared resources. But it was also significant because Nadella was born in Hyderabad, India. A cricket fan and poetry reader, he is one of the many Indians taking their place in the US tech elite. But what is the broader importance of his appointment?

For Dheeraj Pandey, CEO of datacentre server/storage company Nutanix, the rise of Nadella will “help [Indians] believe that nothing is impossible if you are really smart, work hard, and value humility.”

Bipul Sinha, partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, agrees.

“These things have symbolic importance. Satya Nadella is now a role model to many executives of Indian descent. It gives people confidence that they can also become leaders of very large global public companies.”

Anil Valluri, president of India and SAARC Operations at NetApp’s marketing and services group, is even more bullish.

“It will motivate young IT talent and both IT and non-IT leaders [and show] that our education system, with the right amount of exposure and opportunities, can produce world leaders. India has been on the world software development and export map for a long time now. What this appointment will do is to spur existing IT talent to graduate to business leadership. Hyderabad, like Bangalore, has developed an education and market ecosystem which encourages students to pursue IT as a career and now Hyderabad has its own poster boy like some well-known Bangalore ones.”

Valluri points to a built-in competitive streak when asked why Indian tech leaders are becoming so successful in the US.

“India’s population is four times that of the US and at the core of the Indian value system is the emphasis on education as the pivot for all growth in life,” he says. “The effort needed to maintain a competitive edge is far greater and that leads to development of exceptional skill sets with certain individuals. This edge, coupled with the conducive, innovation-centric environment that the US offers, allows Indian talent to make their mark and deliver results that matter. Thriving on chaos is a standard way of life with most Indian leaders and this in itself presents a certain advantage. The ability to forge ahead and find quick solutions while cutting through the chaos does lend itself to unique characteristics which perhaps are not so prevalent in the US.”

Nutanix’s Pandey points to Indian and American “shared values” including respect for democracy, secularism and the value of education.

“Also, the Indians who came two decades ago are now in the phase of ‘self-actualisation’. It took them some time to navigate Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which included steady income, kids going to good schools, [getting a] green card, citizenship, and a comfortable living. Many of them are past that. They are unshackled and are daring to dream.”

Lightspeed’s Sinha notes contextual differences.

“Indian technology leaders grew up in largely socialist India where resources were scare. The lack of resources induces a sense of focus and discipline that is invaluable.”

But Pandey balks at the notion of Indians having unique differentiating qualities.

“Good leaders are essentially the same everywhere. Many immigrants, who grew up in middle class families, share a common bond of shared values with hard-working Americans who believe in creating opportunity.”

There are mixed views as to whether Indian entrepreneurs will continue to beat a path to the US or build more home-grown success stories like Wipro, Infosys and other IT outsourcing giants.

“The success of Indian entrepreneurs in the US is the result of great foundational technical education, immigrant drive and American culture of risk taking,” says Sinha. “The cultural context is very important as without the low cost of failure it is much harder to dream big.”

Pandey has mixed views.

“India continues to be messy because of the populist multi-party democracy system,” he says. “Starting a business is still very hard. As the political environment in India improves and there is renewed urgency in kickstarting another set of 1992-era economic reforms, more people will stay. That is a multi-decade process. There is a bright spot in Bangalore though that cannot be discounted.”


Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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