“My dad and mom sacrificed a lot of their life to make sure their children were educated.”
Indian leaders have never been more in the spotlight until Sundar Pichai takes charge of Google as the new CEO in August 2015.
But that is not to say they are not remarkable enough in their contribution to their industries.
Many key Indian figures, from politics to entertainment, are regularly recognised for their influence and wealth.
Even young and ambitious talents are gradually coming onto the global scene (read our Forbes 30 Under 30).
DESIblitz meets the prominent CEOs running some of the biggest companies in the US.
Sundar Pichai, 42 ~ CEO of Google
As the new CEO of one of the biggest companies in the world (valued at over US$450 billion/£287 billion), Sundar’s journey began in Chennai, East India.
His family did not have much, but he found joy in technology.
His father, an electrical engineer, recalls: “I used to come home and talk to him a lot about my work day and the challenges I faced. Even at a young age, he was curious about my work.”
Years later, he would complete his Ph.D. at Stanford University and MBA at Wharton School of Business, before joining Google in 2004.
Sundar says: “My dad and mom…sacrificed a lot of their life and used a lot of their disposable income to make sure their children were educated.”
But never could they imagine their boy would transform the lives of millions of people around the world.
He pushed hard for Google to create its own browser (Chrome) and took charge of Android in 2013.
Taking the highest seat in Google, Sundar has not forgotten his roots, humbly saying: “Getting great low-cost computing devices at scale to the developing world is especially meaningful to me.”
Satya Nadella, 48 ~ CEO of Microsoft
In Hyderabad, Satya was an only child in a middle-class family. He moved to the US in 1988 when he was 21 to pursue further studies.
Satya says: “It was an amazing upbringing…I was mostly asked to chase whatever it is that I wanted to do, which was mostly cricket when growing up.
“And then at some point, it was technology and I got an engineering degree.”
He joined Microsoft in 1992. The bumpy ride started when he became CEO in 2014.
Satya was tasked with saving the company from the Windows 8 disaster and holding the fort against technology’s rising stars – Apple and Samsung.
Yet, the poetry and cricket fanatic is determined to turn things around with Windows 10.
He says: “Windows is used by a billion and a half users. So Windows 10 is huge to me. It’s the beginning of a new generation of Windows.”
Indra Nooyi, 59 ~ CEO and Chairman of PepsiCo
The Yale alumni and frequent face of Forbes annual power list has been running PepsiCo since October 2006.
She compares being a CEO to playing music, saying: “CEOs don’t have music that’s given to them with a set structure… [it] is like leading a jazz orchestra. You improvise.”
The mother-of-two is also very candid about the struggle to achieve work-life balance as a professional woman.
“My observation…is that the biological clock and the career clock are in total conflict with each other.
“When you have to have kids you have to build your career. Just as you’re rising to middle management your kids need you because they’re teenagers.”
Shantanu Narayen, 52 ~ CEO of Adobe Systems
Shantanu has been with Adobe for almost 20 years. But he credits Apple for some of the most valuable management lessons learned.
His mentor at Apple, Gursharan Sidhu, taught him how to think about doing the impossible and be grateful for what other people have done for him.
Shantanu took these ideas with him when he arrived at Adobe in 1998. Since becoming CEO in 2007, he has never stopped pushing the boundaries.
Traditionally specialising in creative software, the Hyderabad-born CEO wants the company to branch out to digital marketing.
He says: “I like to say that if you can connect all the dots between what you see today and where you want to go, then it’s probably not ambitious enough or aspirational enough.
“On the other hand, if people look at it and say there is no way that’s going to happen, then it’s probably a little too much. So it’s a balance.”
Ajay Banga, 55 ~ President and CEO of MasterCard
Before joining MasterCard in 2009, Ajay spent a lot of time working in India and around the globe with firms like Nestlé, PepsiCo and Citigroup.
While he was Chief Operating Officer, Ajay had the foresight to launch MasterCard Labs to work on contactless payment in 2010.
Rising to CEO in July 2010, his international outlook and forward thinking continue to drive MasterCard forward.
It is no easy job to run an NYSE-listed company that offers financial services to 40 million merchants in 210 countries.
Ajay also faces the uphill battle against rivals like Visa, Apple Pay and Android Pay. It helps to have a good head on his shoulders.
Giving a speech at the Indian Institute of Ahmedabad, he says: “You come from a school where you were the top gun. You get here and everybody’s a top gun. Humility is practically a rite of passage.”
The CEO also inspires a great deal when he advises: “Widen your field of vision – to see things differently, to fail harder, to innovate, and to question everything.”
Besides these five top-notch leaders, many more Indians are doing an amazing job at running multi-billion dollar conglomerates and thrusting Desi presence onto the forefront.
Lakshmi Mittal of ArcelorMittal, Rajeev Suri of Nokia, Rakesh Kapoor of Reckitt Benckiser and Bela Bajaria of Universal Television – to name but a few.
DESIblitz cannot be more proud and hope to see more Desi talents making a positive impact around the world!