Sundar Pichai is from IIT, routine or surprising?

The premier institute is not the only benchmark of Indian success stories.

 |  3-minute read |   17-12-2015
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Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google is of Indian-origin and he studied at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). Routine or surprising? Actually, neither.

Examine two recent CEO appointments in both Microsoft and Nokia. Neither of these CEOs went to IITs. Both Satya Nadella of Microsoft and Rajeev Suri of Nokia studied at the Manipal Institute of Technology.

Take the case of another CEO, Shantanu Narayen of Adobe Systems studied at Osmania University — a university founded by the Nizam of Hyderabad.

Moving away from technology companies, Indra Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo did her Bachelor’s from Madras Christian College, Tamil Nadu, before studying at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Calcutta. Ajaypal Singh Banga, the CEO of MasterCard, went to St Stephen’s College in Delhi and followed it with the Indian Institue of Management (IIM) , Ahmedabad in Gujarat.

This makes Sundar Pichai the only IITian in this list of famous CEOs of Indian-origin. To be fair, IIMs are equally famous and occupy the same league as IITs; except that unlike IITs, they are management institutes.

There are other CEOs of Indian-origin who did not go to IITs. The story of Rakesh Kapoor, CEO of Reckitt Benckiser Group is equally interesting. He studied at Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani, in Rajasthan for his Bachelor’s and completed his management education from XLRI- Xavier School of Management, Jamshedpur.

Anshu Jain, who was the co-CEO of Deutsche Bank till July 2015, studied economics at Shri Ram College of Commerce, New Delhi. Another former CEO, Surya N Mohapatra of Quest Diagnostics studied at National Institute of Technology, Rourkela in Orissa.

None of them went to IITs. If this is the case, then why do we equate IITs as the only benchmark of Indian success stories?

For that we travel back a little, and look at the CEOs of global companies in the not so distant past.

The co-founder of Sun Microsystems, Vinod Khosla, was from IIT, Delhi; while Arun Sarin, the former CEO of Vodafone went to IIT, Kharagpur.

Khosla along with many distinguished IIT graduates, including Kanwal Rekhi (the first Indo-American founder and CEO to take a venture-backed company public on the NASDAQ) played a critical role in the Silicon Valley, thereby laying the foundation of the IIT saga. The rise of the Silicon Valley contributed to making IITs a household name, and the brand acquired global prominence.

While IITs continue to attract some of India’s best talent, the rise of other institutes all over the country is also a part of the story of India’s progress.

Today, graduates from tier-II and tier-III towns in India, as well as institutes not listed in the global education rankings, are increasingly the source of a new generation of Indian expatriates and entrepreneurs. These students are now making a mark in the global arena.

Besides their alma mater, the geographical origin of the Indian-origin CEOs is indicative of a spatial spread, since these success stories are not confined to the Delhi or Mumbai metropolis. While Sundar Pichai and Indra Nooyi are from Tamil Nadu, both Satya Nadella and Shantanu Narayen were born in Hyderabad.

On the other hand, Rajeev Suri and Rakesh Kapoor were born in Delhi, and carry prominent North Indian Punjabi surnames. While Ajaypal Singh Banga is from Punjab, he was born in an army cantonment near Pune, Maharashtra, where his father was posted.

Dinesh Paliwal (CEO of Harman International) was born in Agra (Uttar Pradesh), and Anshu Jain hails from Jaipur (Rajasthan), while Vikram Pandit, the former CEO of Citigroup was born in Nagpur (Maharashtra). The success story of Indians who are occupying top positions in global corporations is no longer restricted to select institutions or to one geographical area. The spread is wider, comprehensive and inclusive.

IITs are still the best engineering institutes in India, but they are no longer synonymous with success stories emanating from India. Though Sundar Pichai is not a solitary reaper!

Writer

Bajinder Pal Singh Bajinder Pal Singh

He is a journalist based in Thailand, who specialises in south and southeast Asia. His interests include science, environment and education, and their interface with media.

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