[Left to Right: Deloitte CEO, Punit Renjen; PepsiCo CEO, Indra Nooyi; Google CEO, Sundar Pichai.]
Google, Microsoft, PepsiCo, Citigroup, and Adobe Systems—what is the common thread that connects these world-famous, multi-billion dollar companies? Indian chief executive officers currently head every single one of them.
To many South Asian communities, this comes as no surprise. The fervent and determined attitude that fuels the drive and work ethic drilled into many of them since adolescence leads them to reap benefits that include leading top American corporations.
South Asians boast the highest number C-level leadership positions secured in the technology industry—more than any other ethnic background in the world. Silicon Valley is bursting at the seams with Indians running startups. Many of these individuals were born and raised in their respective home countries before moving to the Western world, leaving some scratching their heads to wonder whether there is a secret formula to this level of achievement. Though it is unlikely that Indians around the world are routinely taught how to climb the ladder to success, one might find it helpful to look into the roots of Indian culture.
Deloitte, one of the Big Four financial firms, is a prime example—the firm’s Asian Global CEO is Indian. Punit Renjen is quoted as attributing his success to “hard work, good luck, inspirational mentorship and never forgetting where I came from.”
Indians who have grown up in the West may find themselves nodding their heads in agreement to that last part. It is almost universally acknowledged that despite being submerged in American culture, one can never fully disconnect themselves from their heritage.
Looking to this rise of new Indian CEOs, it’s no wonder that the foundation of South Asian culture enabled these successful individuals to get to the top. Sundar Pichai’s ascent to the Google throne made room for conversation on the topic, and many seem to point to a distinct Indian work ethic that contrasts from its American counterpart. According to BBC, a study by the University of Southern New Hampshire suggested that Indian managers are more successful because of “a paradoxical blend of genuine personal humility and intense professional will.”
We all know—where there’s a will, there’s a way: ask any first generation South Asian in the West and they will tell you the story of how their mother or father used to walk five miles barefoot in the blazing desert to get to class. Though these stories tend to serve as a cue for millennial offspring to roll their eyes, it is a pointed indication of the “intense will” their generation possessed.
None of these CEOs share the same background—many were born and raised in different parts of India, ranging from poverty-run to middle-class, and left to pursue high education in other countries—yet they all share similar values, instincts, and traits.
The humility of sharing diverse backgrounds and experiences combined with a sense of versatility that stems from transitioning to a new world births a demeanor that is at once wise and empathetic while simultaneously focused and driven. A combination of these characteristics leads to the type of persona and attitude that paves the path to success.