Satya Nadella: Can the system claim the success?

IBNLive Blog - Feb 08, 2014

The appointment of Satya Nadella as Microsoft CEO has been a breath of refreshing news amidst the state of business gloom in the country. As part of Indian diaspora's phenomenal professional growth in America, the appointment of Nadella reinstates the professional excellence that Indians can pursue abroad. However, this also poses pertinent questions on whether the Indian system can claim their successes

One of the major reasons that the Indian diaspora thrives (professionally not necessarily holistically) in the US and other developed economies is due to the ecosystem provided by these countries. The rise of Indian Americans such as Indra Nooyi, Sundar Pichai, Nilesh Arora and Satya Nadella reflects the true might of the American system. As most of these people would agree, the egalitarian and transparent professional atmosphere in America served as a fundamental base to their success. The emphasis on providing an equal opportunity to everyone is one of the pillars of the American growth story.

Even though the story is becoming jaded off late with rising inequality, it is still the foundation of their professional system. As such, it is not surprising that America still produces the best and most innovative world leaders. According to Fortune 500 rankings, the number of CEO's who are non White have been increasing at an increasing rate over the years. From an objective view point, would it be possible that an American heads the biggest multinational company in India? It could be possible but the probability of that happening is not too high.

It is an enigma on how Indians perform well across the world except in their home country due to a variety of reasons. The inherent bias in our system (especially in non services sectors), in some form or the other, makes us compromise on our broader goals and targets. It makes us dependent on various other factors besides our own expertise to move in the path of success. In this path, maintaining our integrity is becoming increasingly challenging especially in sectors besides the services sector. As such, meritocracy as a whole takes a backseat in the growth of individuals and this makes the concept of discipline almost redundant within the broader business environment. Most companies have a family patronage system and much like our political masters, the possibilities of common people breaking through the ranks to the top post still remains elusive.

In addition, the Indian system by its nature is so structured that it restricts the creativity of the person to the hilt. What is the probability that a non IIT-ian could flourish in India? Could Nadella be the CEO if he was here? The structured nature of our systems stereotypes people into various genres at a very young age and its challenging to look back at it. The flexibility that an American education and professional system offers is one of the key reasons why people thrive under such systems. Our education system was initially structured to be for the Babu's and it remains by and large so except for some recent changes.

Even though things have changed in India considerably compared to a decade ago, they are still falling short of the levels of professionalism that exists in countries such as the United States. Even though the likes of Nadella were born in India by birth, the eco-system and ambience provided by the American system only allowed them to thrive in such a spectacular manner from a professional viewpoint. This had nothing to do with the Indian system, it was despite the system. As such, to gloat on their achievements as a creation of Indian system is barking down the wrong tree.

However, one has to agree that the "Indianess" of Indian Americans could have paved a significant part in their progress in their lives even in their careers. The institutional values that Indians as individual people (not as a collective unit) prescribe to their kin are indeed things that individuals keep for a life time. These ethos that Indian families have imbibed in these people would have played a significant part in their success stories. The soft power that Indians often associate ourselves with could have played a significant role and it would have made them stand out in their own sphere. In addition, the holistic middle class upbringing that Indians often associate themselves with, could have played a role in these Indian Americans excelling professionally abroad.

All of these observations, needless to say, is to provide a view purely from a professional perspective. It would be unfair to equate them to happiness since that is a different ball game all together. While India might be professionally still falling short, to many people it still provides the best package anywhere across the world including the author.

In retrospect, it is indeed pleasing to see the likes of Nadella achieving but most of these cases have been despite the system and not because of it. Our systems need to be revamped to ensure the brightest stay in the country and thrive not by emigrating abroad. While "Indianess" is a positive attribute and should be praised, the Indian system needs to revamped to ensure the Nadella's of the world stay in India and succeed.

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