You are not imagining it. Indian-origin CEOs indeed are everywhere

You are not imagining it. Indian-origin CEOs indeed are everywhere
Image: Photos: Reuters, photo-illustration by Quartz
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These days, if you fling a stone into Silicon Valley, you are most likely to hit an Indian-origin CEO.

Until a decade ago, there was only a handful of them, mostly in consumer goods, tech, and finance: Pepsi Co’s Indra Nooyi, who roleplayed leaders at the dinner table with her mother and sister in Madras when she was young; Google’s Sundar Pichai, the Madurai-born techie who was a major force in pushing Google to enter the browser wars with Chrome; and branding and finance wizard Ajay Banga, who led MasterCard for a decade before moving to General Atlantic earlier this year.

Others, like Citibank’s Vikram Pandit, did not last long at the top. Yet, more and more companies have turned to Indian-origin talent for their top brass.

Besides academic pedigree—several of these high performers are alumni of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) or other such elite institutions of the country—and robust resumes, Indian-origin managers bring to the table competitiveness, diversity and inclusion, an acute awareness of family commitments, and more.

The first two years of the 2020s alone have seen almost as many Indian-origin CEO appointments as did the entire 2010s. This even excludes second-generation immigrants like Vimeo’s Anjali Sud, Workday’s Aneel Bhushri, or the more contentious Niraj Shah of Wayfair.

Here is a non-exhaustive Indian-origin CEOs in the US.

Raj Subramaniam, FedEx

The chemical engineering graduate from the IIT Bombay hails from Thiruvananthapuram in the southern Indian state of Kerala. He has spent more than 30 years at FedEx. Subramaniam held an array of strategy and operations roles in various geographies before being made president and CEO of the logistics giant on March 29, 2022.

Leena Nair, Chanel

A native of a small town in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, Nair took charge at Chanel from Alain Wertheimer on Dec. 14, 2021. She is the first woman to take that position at the French luxury fashion house.

Earlier, Nair headed human resources at Unilever London, having spent 30 years with the consumer goods giant after starting as a trainee in India. Working her way up, she eventually became a British citizen.

Parag Agrawal, Twitter

Agrawal replaced CEO Jack Dorsey on Nov. 29, 2021, after serving as Twitter’s chief technology officer since 2017.

The IIT Bombay graduate has been good for the company’s culture. He’s already taken paternity leave, reduced draconian management oversight, and championed flexible working.

CS Venkatakrishnan, Barclays

Barclays appointed CS Venkatakrishnan as CEO on Nov. 1, 2021, after Jes Staley stepped down unexpectedly.

MIT-educated Venkatakrishnan was with New York-based JPMorgan Chase for two decades before joining Barclays in 2016. The first person of colour to hold the position, Venkatakrishnan is viewed as a fine balance between a consensus-seeker and a risk-taker.

Rangarajan Raghuram, VMware

The cloud computing company elevated Raghuram from executive vice-president and chief operating officer for products and cloud services to CEO on June 1, 2021. He joined the firm in 2003 and has since helped grow its core business even while leading its diversification efforts.

Shar Dubey, Match

Sharmistha Dubey, who goes by the nickname “Shar,” served as Match’s president before taking over as CEO on March 1, 2020. Prior to heading the $40 billion conglomerate, she used to be the chief operating officer at Tinder, one of the many dating and matrimony platforms owned by Match.

In 2021, the “boss of romance” won accolades for not only opposing the heinous Texas abortion law but also creating a fund to support employees affected by the restrictive law. 

Sonia Syngal, Gap

Syngal has been with Gap since 2014. Before the India-born Canada-bred executive was handed the reins for Gap on March 23, 2020, she led Gap-owned Old Navy for four years. Her strategy to help the struggling fashion brand has been to reduce store count and take more risks.

Sandeep Mathrani, WeWork

Unlike several other Indian-origin CEOs, Mathrani didn’t grow up with WeWork. He was an outsider hired for the crucial role on Feb. 18, 2020. The real estate expert was tasked with revamping and growing the company

The company that inspired Apple TV+ Series WeCrashed is in dire need of damage control after its business model and corporate governance went sideways.

Arvind Krishna, IBM

The IIT-Kanpur alumnus joined IBM way back in 1990. Before becoming CEO on Jan. 30, 2020, he served in multiple roles, including director of research and the head of the cloud and cognitive software unit.

The credit for IBM’s landmark 2019 deal with open source technology firm Red Hat—the company’s biggest purchase in its 109-year history—goes to Krishna.

Sundar Pichai, Alphabet

Pichai had been the company’s public face since being appointed Google’s CEO in 2015. On Dec. 3, the 1993 IIT-Kharagpur graduate replaced founder Larry Page at the top, becoming Alphabet’s CEO.

With the coveted position came a host of problems: over 70 different moonshots spread across sectors were all Pichai’s responsibility now.

Niren Chaudhary, Panera Bread

On May 23, 2019, Chaudhary came to Panera from doughnut giant Krispy Kreme, where he served as COO and president. Before that, he had spent 23 years, both in India and the US, at Yum! Brands, the parent company of KFC and Taco Bell.

Revathi Advaithi, Flex

Advaithi was brought on board on Feb. 11, 2019, to lead the company that makes everything from hair dryers to Macs. The mechanical engineering graduate from India’s Birla Institute of Technology and Science Pilani (BITS) is a fierce advocate of STEM education for girls and diversity in the workplace.

Sanjay Mehrotra, Micron

Born in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, Mehrotra, too, attended BITS Pilani before getting his bachelors’ and master’s degrees from the University of California, Berkeley. He co-founded SanDisk in 1988 and was its president and CEO from 2011 until its acquisition in 2016 by Western Digital. He arrived at Micron on April 27, 2017, as president and CEO.

George Kurian, NetApp

The Kerala-born executive, who joined the data storage and management company in 2011, took over as CEO on June 1, 2015. Earlier, he was its executive vice-president of product operations for more than two years.

Kurian’s twin, Thomas, is the CEO of Google Cloud.

Punit Renjen, Deloitte

Renjen, who became Deloitte’s CEO on May 31, 2015, was a small-town boy from  Rohtak, Haryana, who came to the US after winning a Rotary Foundation Scholarship that allowed him to study at Willamette University’s Atkinson Graduate School of Management. He has never looked back since.

The first Asian to lead the biggest among consulting’s Big Four, his octagenarian mother still lives in his childhood home in Rohtak.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft

Nadella grew up in Delhi and Hyderabad and then moved to the US for his masters’ degree. He joined Microsoft as a young engineer in 1992 and climbed the ranks, spearheading the early versions of Microsoft Office, Xbox Live, the Azure cloud platform, and more along the way. Since taking over as CEO on Feb. 4, 2014, he’s led with empathy, working to rid Microsoft of bureaucracy, suspicion, and alleged short-sightedness. He’s introduced collaborative hackathons and scrapped an unpopular performance ranking system that forced managers to give a percentage of negative reviews.

Shantanu Narayen, Adobe Inc

Narayen grew up in a Telugu-speaking household in Hyderabad to a mother who taught American literature and a father who ran a plastics company. Like Nadella, he moved to the US for his masters’ education.

Three decades since, the chair, president, and CEO of Adobe is still an avid follower of the Indian cricket team.