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Opinion
Leonid Bershidsky

Why Microsoft and Everyone Else Loves Indian CEOs

There is nothing specifically Indian about empathy, humility, patience and an ability to dream. Yet it is these qualities that distinguish the "Indian club" of overachievers in global business.

With the appointment of Satya Nadella as chief executive officer, Microsoft has joined a growing club of multinational corporations run by Indian-born managers. The list includes Pepsi, Deutsche Bank, MasterCard, Adobe Systems, Diageo, London-traded consumer goods giant Reckitt Benckiser and semiconductor maker GlobalFoundries.

At first glance, the commonalities among Indian CEOs are not particularly informative. They're all in their late 40s and early 50s, the age when a successful manager's career can be expected to peak. All graduated from U.S. or U.K. universities in addition to their Indian schools -- no surprise, since all of them were immigrants who needed a stepping stone into a new culture. Those of them who had management experience in India started out with global corporations, which is logical given that it would have been harder to make the leap to global prominence from one of the family-owned companies that comprise about two thirds of Indian businesses. At least three -- Nadella, Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen and Prem Watsa, who runs Fairfax Financial, the would-be savior of Blackberry -- went to the same public school in Hyderabad, which experienced a technological boom around the turn of the century that included the establishment of Microsoft's first development center outside the U.S. By the time the boom developed, however, all three were long gone from their hometown.