An IIT-Delhi graduate may be in the running to become WhatsApp’s CEO

Taking control.
Taking control.
Image: Reuters/Dado Ruvic
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WhatsApp, the world’s largest messaging service, is currently looking for a new CEO, and there could be an Indian in the running for the corner office.

On April 30, WhatsApp co-founder and CEO Jan Koum resigned from Facebook, which owns the messaging app, following disagreements over the privacy of user data. Among the frontrunners to take over Koum’s job is the company’s business executive Neeraj Arora, according to a TechCrunch report. An unnamed source described him as the number four at the California-headquartered company.

Arora, who calls himself the “Business Guy” at WhatsApp on his LinkedIn profile, has been with the company since 2011, three years before it was acquired by social media giant Facebook. Before that, he worked at Google for nearly four years as part of the company’s corporate development team, which looked at acquisitions and strategic investments across products and geographies.

Arora was also on the board of India’s largest digital payments firm, Paytm, from June 2015 to February 2018.

A graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IIT-D), Arora has an MBA from the Indian School of Business (ISB). “He is well-connected and this has helped him move up the ladder,” Mohit Garg, co-founder of training software firm MindTickle and Arora’s batchmate at ISB, told The Economic Times in 2016. “…he was not a cookie cutter guy, (he) was diligent and knew where he had to reach in life,” said Shrutkeerti Khurana, another batchmate.

Arora has been pivotal in furthering WhatsApp’s success story in India. He is credited with convincing Anil Ambani’s Reliance Communications to bundle the unlimited use of WhatsApp with a monthly data plan priced at Rs16 ($0.20) and getting Tata Docomo to offer unlimited WhatsApp usage for Rs15 for 15 days.

If he does make the cut for the role, he’ll be joining the ranks of other Indian-origin leaders at the helm of Silicon Valley companies, including Sundar Pichai at Google, Satya Nadella at Microsoft, and Shantanu Narayen at Adobe.

WhatsApp’s next CEO has a big task cut out for him to regain users’ confidence. This, at a time when the messaging app’s parent company Facebook continues to battle major trust issues in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica voter manipulation controversy. Koum reportedly left over (paywall) the company’s attempts to weaken encryption and collect more detailed information on users. Brian Acton, who started WhatsApp with Koum in 2009 and quit the company to start his own non-profit organisation, has been a vocal supporter of the #DeleteFacebook movement since the scandal was unearthed.