The pantheon of Indian-origin CEOs of major global companies appears to be only expanding. Several major companies, including Big Tech like Alphabet, Microsoft and Twitter, have an Indian name on the skipper’s deck.
Although many of them received their education in India, they left for foreign shores only to leave a mark in the world of business, technology and much more. These are great minds who have taken up the top job in some of the biggest companies in history.
Their success as CEOs and chairpersons certainly contributes to the market confidence and inspires millions of youths back home to dream big. Of course, many more will follow in their footsteps and we will have more Indian names in the highest echelons of businesses.
A look at Indian-origin CEOs of global companies who are inspiring us all
French luxury group Chanel named Leena Nair as its global CEO. Nair, a veteran in the FMCG sector, was the first female and youngest-ever Chief Human Resources Officer of Unilever — a group she worked with for 30 years since starting as a trainee on the factory floor.
Nair took to Twitter on 14 December to announce her appointment and said in a series of tweets: “I am humbled and honoured to be appointed the Global Chief Executive Officer of @CHANEL, an iconic and admired company.”
“I am so inspired by what @CHANEL stands for. It is a company that believes in the freedom of creation, in cultivating human potential and in acting to have a positive impact in the world,” she added in another tweet.
I am so inspired by what @CHANEL stands for. It is a company that believes in the freedom of creation, in cultivating human potential and in acting to have a positive impact in the world.
— Leena Nair (@LeenaNairHR) December 14, 2021
I will always be a proud advocate of @Unilever and its ambition to make sustainable living commonplace.
— Leena Nair (@LeenaNairHR) December 14, 2021
Overwhelmed by the love and support my appointment as @CHANEL CEO has got. Thank you! Please trust that I am reading every comment, even if I don’t reply to everyone individually. 🙏
— Leena Nair (@LeenaNairHR) December 14, 2021
In a statement, Unilever said, “Leena Nair, CHRO, has decided to leave the company in January 2022 to pursue a new career opportunity as Global Chief Executive Officer, Chanel Ltd.”
Unilever CEO Alan Jope praised Nair for being a “driving force on our equity, diversity and inclusion agenda, on the transformation of our leadership development, and on our preparedness for the future of work.”
Fifty-two-year-old Nair is an Indian-origin British national. A gold medallist from the Xavier School of Management, she joined the Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) in 1992 and worked across India, including Kolkata, Ambattur and Taloja, in various roles.
Rising through the ranks, Nair eventually ended overseeing 150,000 people at Unilever and was a member of the Unilever Leadership Executive (ULE).
Nair will join Chanel in London. The fashion house said that her appointment is aimed at “long-term success as a private company” for Chanel.
Parag Agrawal, Twitter
A graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, the 37-year-old Agrawal was named the CEO of social networking company Twitter on 29 November 2021.
The latest in a long list of Indian-origin CEOs of global companies, Agrawal has been working for Twitter since 2011.
Before joining the San Francisco-based company, he worked briefly with Microsoft, Yahoo! and AT&T Labs. Agrawal, who has a PhD in Computer Science from Stanford University, is credited for turning around Twitter’s audience growth in 2016-17.
Satya Nadella, Microsoft
Born in Hyderabad, the 54-year-old Nadella has been the CEO of Microsoft since 2014 when he succeeded Steve Ballmer. This year, after John Thompson stepped down as the chairman of the technology giant, Nadella took over the reins of Microsoft as its CEO and chairman.
Nadella has a graduate degree in engineering from Manipal Institute of Technology, India. He then went to the US where he completed his Masters in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
In 1992, Nadella joined Microsoft. He served as Executive Vice President of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise Group. Nadella is credited with giving a new direction to the Redmond-headquartered company and transforming it into a modern-day giant.
He presided over key acquisitions such as Nokia and LinkedIn. Under him, Microsoft’s market capitalisation grew from around USD 300 billion to USD 2 trillion.
In October, Microsoft surpassed Apple as the world’s most valuable publicly-traded company.
Sundar Pichai, Alphabet and Google
Pichai became a celebrity of sorts in India when he was named the CEO of Google in 2015. Born in Madras (now Chennai), Pichai did his B.Tech in Metallurgical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur before earning a scholarship to study at Stanford University, US. There, he completed his M.S. in materials science and engineering in 1995.
An MBA from Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Pichai worked for Applied Materials and McKinsey & Company before joining Google in 2004. Pichai is the brain behind many of Google’s best-known products, including Chrome, Google Drive and Android.
In 2019, he was named the CEO of Google’s parent company Alphabet. Pichai, one of the most successful Indian-origin CEOs of any foreign company, has appeared on Time’s 100 Most Influential People in 2016 and 2020.
Shantanu Narayen, Adobe
President Kovind presents Padma Shri to Shri Shantanu Narayen for Trade & Industry. He is the Chairman of Adobe Inc, one of the world’s largest and most diversified software companies pic.twitter.com/JHoYCYFftR
— President of India (@rashtrapatibhvn) March 11, 2019
Narayen has been working with the company since 1998 when he joined as a vice-president and general manager of its engineering technology group. His rise at Adobe was rapid — Narayen became president and COO in 2005 and was named CEO two years later. After ten years, he was made chairman of the board.
Born in Hyderabad, Narayen received education in India till graduation like many other Indian-origin CEOs of global giants. He earned his bachelor’s degree in electronics engineering from Hyderabad’s Osmania University. He then left for the US to complete his M.S. from Bowling Green State University and an MBA from the University of California at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.
Before Adobe, he worked in product development roles at Apple and Silicon Graphics. Narayen was awarded the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian honour, in 2019.
Sanjay Mehrotra, Micron Technology
One of the most successful Indian-origin CEOs in the West, Mehrotra is best known for turning SanDisk Corporation from its start-up phase into a global giant in 28 years from 1988 to 2016.
SanDisk Corporation was co-founded by him and went on to become a Fortune 500 company under his leadership. From 2011 to its eventual sale to Western Digital in 2016, Mehrotra served as the company’s president and CEO and joined Micron Technology as its CEO in 2017.
Born in Kanpur, Mehrotra graduated from Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, in the 1970s and moved to the US to pursue higher education. He earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of California and subsequently completed the Stanford Executive Program (SEP) in the US.
Mehrotra holds over 70 patents and has written extensively on nonvolatile memory design and flash memory systems.
Rajeev Suri, Inmarsat
Suri is a citizen of Singapore but was born in New Delhi and earned a B.Tech degree from Manipal Institute of Technology, Karnataka. He is renowned for reaching the top in the business world with just a bachelor’s degree.
Beginning his stellar career in 1989 with Calcom Electronics, he worked with ICL India (ICIM) between 1990 and 1993. After a stint with Churchgate Group in Nigeria, he joined Nokia in 1995.
Suri devoted a substantial part of his life to the company and became the CEO of Nokia Solutions and Networks (now Nokia Solutions and Networks) in 2009.
When Microsoft bought Nokia’s phone division in 2014, Suri became the CEO of Nokia Inc. and served in the position until 2020. In 2021, he joined as the top boss of British satellite telecommunications company Inmarsat.
Vikram Pandit, The Orogen Group
Before Nadella and Pichai, the rise of Pandit to the top of the US business world made headlines in India.
Born in Nagpur, he left the country at 16 to pursue his education in the US. After earning his B.S. and M.S. degrees in engineering from Columbia University, he completed his PhD in finance from there in 1986.
Pandit’s long and illustrious career highlights in banking and finance include his tenure as president and COO of Morgan Stanley, which he had joined in 1983 and left in 2005. He became part of Citigroup in 2007 when the company bought Old Lane, a hedge fund Pandit helped found.
The same year, Pundit became the CEO of Citigroup. Under his leadership, the company navigated the tumultuous period of the 2008 financial crisis. Pandit left Citigroup in 2012 and is now the CEO of the financial services company, The Orogen Group.
In 2008, the Indian government awarded him Padma Bhushan — the nation’s third-highest civilian honour.
Nikesh Arora, Palo Alto Networks Inc
The 53-year-old is a famous name among Indian-origin CEOs. He served as president and COO of SoftBank Group Corp from 2014 to 2016. Before that, he worked for 10 years at Google in various positions, including senior vice president and chief business officer. He was also the founder-CEO of T-Motion PLC.
The son of an Indian Air Force (IAF) officer, Arora was born in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, and acquired his B.Tech. in electrical engineering from the Institute of Technology at Banaras Hindu University, which is now Indian Institute of Technology (BHU), Varanasi.
He subsequently earned an M.S. in finance from Boston College, an M.S. in Business Administration and a PhD from Northeastern University.
Ivan Menezes, Diageo
Diageo is one of the world’s largest alcoholic beverages companies, whose brands include iconic labels such as Johnnie Walker, Captain Morgan, Guinness and Smirnoff.
Born in Pune, Menezes has been working with Diageo since the company’s formation in 1997 and became the CEO in 2013. A graduate in economics from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University, Menezes did his post-graduation from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.
He subsequently earned an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and then started his career with Nestle in 1981.
George Kurian, NetApp
The former vice president and general manager of the Application Networking and Switching Technology Group at Cisco Systems, George Kurian joined NetApp in 2011. Four years later, he was named the company’s CEO.
Born in Kerala’s Kottayam, Kurian enrolled in the Indian Institute of Technology Madras to study engineering but left for Princeton University, US, before completing his education in India. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from Princeton and went on to study MBA at Stanford University.
Companies he has worked at include Akamai Technologies, McKinsey & Company and Oracle Corporation. His twin brother is Thomas Kurian, who is serving as the CEO of Google Cloud since 2019.
Many more Indian-origin CEOs have left a mark in major global companies. One such name is Indra Nooyi, the former chairperson and CEO of PepsiCo, who has been hailed as one of the world’s most powerful women in business.
Ajaypal Singh Banga served as the president and CEO of MasterCard for 10 years till 2020. Among the most distinguished Indian-origin CEOs, Banga currently serves as executive chairman of the company — a position he is set to vacate on 31 December 2021.
Padmasree Warrior is another illustrious name. She was the US CEO and chief development officer for NIO, the Chinese electric vehicle start-up, and is now the president and CEO of Fable — an online reading platform she founded.
Hero image: Lluis Gene/AFP; Featured image: Twitter/AFP