The story of an Indian making it big outside India is not new but it never fails to instill a sense of pride and spread rays of hope for many here in India; because it’s a success story we can relate to and hope to make it happen in our own lives.
Nadella was born in Hyderabad, schooled in Hyderabad Public School and did his bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Manipal Institute of Technology in 1988. But there ends his Indian connection. After that, he moved to the US to earn a MS in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Later, an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
Nadella started his career at Sun Microsystems Inc. and joined Microsoft in 1992. Since then there has been no looking back. Before being named the third CEO of Microsoft after Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, he had held various senior positions. He is the brains behind Microsoft’s move to cloud computing and its development and was appointed executive vice president for the cloud and enterprise group last year.
Coming to the other global Indians, Indra Nooyi who joined PepsiCo in 1994 was made its CEO in 2006. Padmasree Warrior moved to the US to do her Masters and began her career in Motorola in 1984 of which she became the CTO in 2003 before taking up the position of CTO at Cisco in 2007. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and S R Srinivasa Varadhan too did their research abroad. What’s more, the former, once revealed that he could not get into the hallowed portals of the IITs.
Is Indian connection over-rated?
A single theme runs through their success stories: they were all born in India, schooled in India and later set foot abroad pursuing higher levels of education or research and saw their dreams take wings there. This brings us a key question: is the Indian connection of these success stories overrated? Nadella set foot in the US a couple of decades ago and he is an American citizen now. Given his modest academic foundations in India, is it the US post-graduation that gave him the edge? Is it the relatively open work environment that fostered his talents? Or to put it in a mildly extreme way, had the likes of Nadella stayed in India, would they have remained mere faceless programmers in an IT company?
India Inc. would do well to question its ability to attract and retain talent. Globally, it is no coincidence that the companies that have been able to attract talent are the ones with resounding successes. Their diversified workforce has armed them with an innovative edge and this reflects on their profit statements. In Nadella’s own words, “ours is not an industry that respects tradition; it only respects innovation.” In sharp contrast, historically most enterprises in India foster hierarchical organisation structures and communication patterns. Most of the them are family-run and are less open to a person outside their families, let alone an immigrant professional, running their businesses in CXO positions.
Revolutionalise education system...
What’s equally important is a relook at the education system here. Often dubbed as a rote exam system, education here has been receiving much flak for its undue focus on scoring marks rather than imparting life skills. Even elite institutes like the IITs and the IIMs take in only those who are extremely capable, those who would be able to succeed irrespective of the quality of such institutes. Hence, it has become very much commonplace for the brightest minds of the country to do their Masters and doctoral abroad.
Also, the ‘herd mentality’ must change. The tendency and the social compulsion to follow set career paths and patterns of working must give way to appreciation of critical and creative thinking. Inquisitiveness and the ability to question things must be rewarded and not ridiculed. In Nadella’s own words, “I buy more books than I can finish. I sign up for more online courses than I can complete. I fundamentally believe that if you are not learning new things, you stop doing great and useful things. So family, curiosity and hunger for knowledge all define me.” It is imperative to welcome diverse skill sets in workplaces.