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Microsoft Picks Insider, Who's An Indian Immigrant, As CEO


The new CEO of Microsoft is Satya Nadella. He's a first generation immigrant to this country, born and educated in India. Many people in the tech world share his story.

We asked Aarti Shahani from member station KQED to talk with some of them about what his new appointment means for them.

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: Satya Nadella does not readily talk about his journey as an Indian-American. At a major South Asian business conference in Silicon Valley last year, investor Navin Chaddha prompted him to reflect on it.

NAVIN CHADDHA: Among the Indian communities, right, like you're one of the people who's gotten to the top and is running a $19 billion division. It's really, really big.

SHAHANI: Instead of tidbits about life back home trickling out, Nadella gave some stock business advice.

SATYA NADELLA: You're never going to get things done by just being a person who does their own best work. You've got to get the best out of the people.

SHAHANI: Nadella belongs to a class of people whose journey is extraordinary. It's not the rags-to-riches, by-the-bootstraps American Dream - rather, it's the global turbo-elite. The 46-year-old is a first generation immigrant. Trained as a top engineer in India, he moved here to make the leap - from server farms and backrooms to boardrooms.

Nadella got his MBA at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business. Sunil Kumar is the dean.

SUNIL KUMAR: We also share a closer background in that he went to school 30 kilometers - so 20 miles - from where I went to school.

SHAHANI: Both men are part of the same 1990s influx to America. Kumar says their Indian accents are not a liability. Ties back home are an asset, as American companies compete fiercely to grab business in emerging markets outside the U.S.

Unlike so many immigrants who took a big risk coming here, the question for these power-players was never: will I do well?

KUMAR: The question is how well can you do. And Satya will establish there is really no limit - which is a very positive message to send.


SHAHANI: Back home in India, this is big news. Nadella is from Hyderabad, which is also happens to be home to Microsoft's India headquarters. While this city in the South is best known for its delicious rice biryani dishes, it's quickly gaining a reputation for tech.

Silicon Valley investor Raju Indukuri is from Hyderabad too. He knows Nadella's dad, who's a very accomplished civil servant. Indukuri tells his own daughter to follow that family's example.

RAJU INDUKURI: She's got every opportunity to compete with the best of the best in the world. It is her choice. My job is like to show the inspiration from people like Satya and say, why can't you become like him?

SHAHANI: No pressure.


SHAHANI: At a local Indian restaurant in San Francisco, Gagilee, the newest wave of immigrants are less effusive.

Tarun Agarwal worked at Microsoft. He met Nadella in meetings, and he's seen dozens of Indian men in the highest ranks - far more than women in tech. So he says, Nadella didn't exactly break a glass ceiling.

TARUN AGARWAL: That ceiling sort of is already broken in the technology sector in the U.S. and in that sense this is not a distinctive news, so it's no special pride.

SHAHANI: Lots of business experts are waiting to see if Nadella can pull Microsoft around, bring it back to the glory days of its founders. But Rakshit Ashtekar wonders if the new CEO will follow the founder's footsteps in another way.

RAKSHIT ASHTEKAR: Bill Gates has been very strong on outsourcing. I'm hoping that he will continue the same stand that Bill Gates has taken.

SHAHANI: He hopes CEO Nadella doesn't feel pressure to change how he leads because he's Indian-American.

For NPR News, I'm Aarti Shahani in San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Aarti Shahani is a correspondent for NPR. Based in Silicon Valley, she covers the biggest companies on earth. She is also an author. Her first book, Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares (out Oct. 1, 2019), is about the extreme ups and downs her family encountered as immigrants in the U.S. Before journalism, Shahani was a community organizer in her native New York City, helping prisoners and families facing deportation. Even if it looks like she keeps changing careers, she's always doing the same thing: telling stories that matter.