In the early 20th century just a few hundred people emigrated from India to America each year and there were only about 5,000 folk of Indian heritage living in the United States. Today Indian-born Americans number 2m and they are probably the most successful minority group in the country. Compared with all other big foreign-born groups, they are younger, richer and more likely to be married and supremely well educated. On the west coast they are a mighty force in Silicon Valley; well-off Indians cluster around New York, too.
Like all immigrant groups, Indians have found niches in America’s vast economy. Half of all motels are owned by Indians, mainly Gujaratis. Punjabis dominate the franchises for 7-Eleven stores and Subway sandwiches in Los Angeles. The surge in Indians moving to America is also intimately linked to the rise of the technology industry. In the 1980s India loosened its rules on private colleges, leading to a large expansion in the pool of engineering and science graduates. Fear of the “Y2K” bug in the late 1990s served as a catalyst for them to engage with the global economy, with armies of Indian engineers working remotely from the subcontinent, or travelling to America on workers’ visas, to make sure computers did not fail at the stroke of midnight on December 31st 1999.
Today a quarter or more of the Indian-born workforce is employed in the tech industry. In Silicon Valley neighbourhoods such as Fremont and Cupertino, people of Indian origin make up a fifth of the population. Some 10-20% of all tech start-ups have Indian founders; Indians have ascended to the heights of the biggest firms, too.
Indians for decades have been playing an important role in global technology landscape. Indian IT pros have been an important cog in the machinery running technologly behemoths across the world. In fact, two of the world’s biggest technology companies — Google and Microsoft — are led by Indian-origin CEOs. Other than these two, there are many others who have made an indelible mark on the world of technology.
Satya Nadella. After a 22-year stint with Microsoft, Nadella was appointed as the chief executive officer of the company in February 2014. He previously held the position of executive vice president of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise group.
India-born Sundar Pichai was named as Google CEO on August 10, 2015. The 44-year-old head of Google was born in Chennai, Tamil Nadu and pursued education at IIT Kharagpur (B Tech), Stanford (MS) and Wharton (MBA); at Wharton, he was named a Siebel Scholar and Palmer Scholar.
Rajeev Suri joined Nokia in 1995 and held various positions before being appointed as president and CEO in April 2014. Suri’s ascedancy to Nokia CEO’s position came after Microsoft acquired Nokia’s mobile phone business. Previously, he was the head of the services, Nokia Siemens Networks 2007-2009.
Born in Hyderabad, Shantanu Narayen joined Adobe in 1998 as the senior vice president of worldwide product research and became the COO in 2005 and CEO in 2007. He holds a Bachelor in Science from Osmania University, an MBA from University of California, Berkley, and an MS from Bowling Green State University.
Sanjay Jha, CEO, Global Foundries, took over as CEO of Global Foundries, a semiconductor foundry that produces chips for giants like AMD, Broadcom, Qualcomm, and STMicroelectronics, in January 2014; before that he has served as the CEO of Motorola Mobility and COO of Qualcomm. He joined Motorola as co-CEO in 2008, while serving simultaneously as CEO of Motorola’s Mobile Devices Business.
George Kurian became the CEO and president of storage and data management company NetApp in June 2015, after serving as its executive vice president of product operations for nearly two years. Prior to joining NetApp, George was vice president and general manager of the Application Networking and Switching Technology Group at Cisco Systems. His diverse background also includes the role of vice president at Akamai Technologies,
Among the youngest CEOs in the software services sector, Francisco D’Souza, CEO, Cognizant, is a member of the company’s board of directors. D’Souza joined Cognizant as a co-founder in 1994 and went on to become its CEO in the year 2007. During his tenure as CEO, Cognizant’s employee base has grown from 55,000 to over 230,000.
Dinesh Paliwal is the president and CEO of Harman International, a premium audio gear brand that owns the likes of JBL, Becker, dbx, among others. Born in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, Paliwal holds a BE from IIT Roorkee, and MS and MBA from Miami University.
Ashok Vemuri is the CEO, Conduent Inc, the Xerox’s sibling business services unit that spun off into a separate company recently. In June 2016, the 110-year-old document technology company Xerox named former iGate CEO Ashok Vemuri as the new CEO of its back-office outsourcing company. A former Infosys veteran, Vemuri became CEO of Xerox’s business process outsourcing.
Indians, especially in Silicon Valley, are growing in prominence, influence, and sheer population. The promotion of Satya Nadella, Sundar Pichai, and Nikesh Arora are just a few more recent examples. The fact is that Silicon Valley is the epicenter of the technology companies and people that run the world, and it just so happens that Indians have flocked to it with great success. And they’ve done this with much smaller numbers than most other ethnic groups in the United States have.
Indians have always been rising in America. As James Crabtree of Financial Times suggests, “More than any other group of outsiders, it was the Indians who figured out that, to make it in startup land, it helps to have a social network of your own.”