Meet a new generation of rising stars of the Indian diaspora making a mark in diverse fields around the world
By most metrics, Indian diaspora around the world counts among the most materially successful immigrant ethnic groups. In many host countries, they are among the most educated and prosperous diasporas. Together, they are the single biggest remittance group — sending $80 billion home in 2018 alone. With shared cultural memories of Indian parenting, habits and rituals and a broad spectrum of shared values, the members of this group have thrived around the world, making their mark in diverse pursuits.
The biggest stars of the diaspora are well-known back home — Vinod Khosla, Sundar Pichai, Indra Nooyi, Satya Nadella, Rajat Gupta, Deepak Chopra, the banker Anshu Jain, business executive Nikesh Arora, the late astronaut Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams, among others. But new stars are being created all the time. And their success deserves to be more widely appreciated.
Who are the up and coming stars of the Indian diaspora around the world? ET Magazine has picked 14 names our readers should know more about. We have laid emphasis on business and technology, and chose to leave out wellknown entertainers such as Hasan Minhaj, Mindy Kaling or Kunal Nayyar, or celebrated academics such as the mathematician Manjul Bhargava. We have also opted to pick those with significant part of their respective careers still ahead of them — those we reckon will emerge as the Vinod Khoslas and Satya Nadellas of tomorrow.
This is an admittedly subjective list. Do let us know who you think are conspicuous by their omission. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anjali Sud, 35
New York City, US
Anjali Sud, the 35-year-old CEO of Vimeo, is a second-generation Indian-American who takes pride in her multicultural upbringing. Sud became CEO of the video-sharing platform, which boasts about 80 million members and 900,000 paid subscribers, in 2017. She told ET Magazine from New York City: “Being Indian has given me access to a rich heritage and roots that I am deeply proud of. Growing up, I benefited from the support of my local Indian community and the inspiration that comes from being raised in multiple cultures and learning how to move between them. I view my ethnic identity as a true advantage, not an impediment — it has allowed me to be more flexible, empathetic and cognizant of how our differences make us stronger.”
Sud leads a global team of over 500 people around the world, including Bengaluru. Before her career at Vimeo, which is owned by the New York-based IAC/InterActiveCorp that also has under its umbrella brands such as Tinder, HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List, she held various positions at Amazon and Time Warner. In 2014, she joined Vimeo as vice-president and head of global marketing.
Sud trusts her leadership instincts when it comes to navigating change: “Today, Vimeo is in a strong position as the world’s leading platform for professional video. But our industry continues to evolve rapidly, both in terms of video technology and customer expectations. My task is to keep Vimeo laser-focused on our strategy, while also staying agile and open to how the market will look in the future.”
She doesn’t aspire for work-life balance. Her mantra is work-life integration and she would like Vimeo to be a place where one can be a parent at work. “I try to bring as much of my motherhood experience to the office as I can. That not only helps me feel more comfortable moving fluidly between roles, but I also hope it sets an example for my team,” she says.
Neel Kashkari, 45
President & CEO, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis
Kashkari is no stranger to top jobs in the US government. From 2006 to 2009, he held several senior positions at the US department of treasury. He was also the assistant secretary of treasury since 2008, where he oversaw the Troubled Assets Relief Program during the financial crisis. It was primarily due to his work in Washington DC with the bank bailout implementation that he was chosen for his current role.
As president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis since January 1, 2016, he serves on the Federal Open Market Committee, bringing the Ninth District’s perspective to monetary policy discussions in Washington DC. Kashkari, whose Kashmiri pandit parents moved to the US from Srinagar, also oversees all operations of the bank, including supervision and regulation, treasury services and payments services.
“Kashkari’s position is truly a breakthrough for Indian Americans,” says Nish Acharya, CEO of Equal Innovation, a consultancy that advises companies and governments. “The Federal Reserve sets monetary policy for the country, and the regional presidents, like Kashkari, have enormous sway over the regional economy through their actions and words. This position has more local impact than nearly any elected leader in the region.”
SP Kothari, 61
Chief Economist and Director, Division of Economic and Risk Analysis, US Securities and Exchange Commission
Washington, DC, US
Dr Sriprakash Kothari was a popular professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management for two decades before he moved to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as chief economist and director of its Division of Economic and Risk Analysis in March 2019. What many don’t know is that he is one the few MIT professors who was a donor to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and a supporter of his policies.
Kothari, 61, says his transition from academia to the securities markets regulator has been “quite easy”. “SEC has many very fine, talented economists. Also, I had considerable familiarity with the economics underlying the regulatory and risk issues we deal with at the SEC,” Kothari told ET Magazine in an email interview. In his new role, he oversees economists, data scientists and other professionals who provide financial economics and data science to SEC. He got an engineering degree from BITS, Pilani, and MBA from IIT-Ahmedabad before moving to the US. He still visits his siblings and old college friends in India, but work-related connections and engagement with the Indian government on economic policy issues are very limited, he says.
High on Wellness Quotient
Dr Shamsheer Vayalil, 42
Chairman and MD, VPS Healthcare
Abu Dhabi, UAE
His personal wealth is $1.4 billion, according to a Forbes June 2019 report. But Vayalil is probably better known for his long battle for e-voting rights of non-resident Indians, which he did by filing a PIL in the Supreme Court in 2013, along with another NRI.
“A large population of NRIs are away from India. Their contribution to the development of the nation has been crucial. It can sometimes be difficult to come home to vote in the elections. So is extremely unfortunate that we have been denied the right to vote from overseas in India’s elections,” he tells ET Magazine. With the Lok Sabha last year passing the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill 2017, he is now hopeful that the Upper House will pass the bill in this session of Parliament. “E-balloting is definitely an option. When I began working for NRIs’ voting rights, my aim was that a system should be in place and it must be convenient, foolproof and flawless.”
Meanwhile, he has been granted permanent residency by the UAE government under the recent “gold card” scheme to woo investors and entrepreneurs. Born in Kozhikode in Kerala, Vayalil got his MD from Sri Ramachandra Medical College and Research Institute in Chennai. He then went to the UAE as a radiologist. In 2007, Vayalil set up his first hospital, LLH Hospital, in Abu Dhabi, with support from his billionaire father-in-law MA Yusuff Ali of Lulu Group. Today, his business group has 23 hospitals and 125 health centres across four countries in the Persian Gulf, hires 13,000 employees and owns a large pharmaceutical plant in the UAE.
Other enterprises in his empire include food and catering units, commercial kitchens and a medical concierge company. “Just over a month ago, we opened our facilities in the Emirate of Sharjah and in the Kingdom of Bahrain. This year, VPS Healthcare will be opening Burjeel Medical City, our flagship project in Mohammed Bin Zayed City in Abu Dhabi,” Vayalil tells ET Magazine. Expansion plans are afoot for Africa, the US and Europe, as well as for data-driven preventive healthcare. Vayalil’s CSR initiatives have helped thousands around the world, including flood victims in Kerala and Syrian refugees. He has also helped organise free heart surgeries.
Dhivya Suryadevara, 38
CFO, General Motors
New York & Detroit, US
Like Indra Nooyi, who was PepsiCo CEO for 17 years, Suryadevara, the 38-year-old chief financial officer of US-based General Motors (GM), is also from Chennai. She studied at St John’s Senior Secondary School and did her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in commerce at the University of Madras. Then, at 22, she cracked Harvard Business School.
When she joined automobile major in 2005, she was a senior financial analyst and gradually ascended the ladder to become the first woman CFO in of the company’s 110-year-old history in June last year. She has risen against odds. Suryadevara lost her father at a young age and her mother had high expectations from her three daughters and made them want to do better, she said in an interview published in US-based Real Simple magazine in June last year. Suryadevara’s office did not agree to an interaction with ET Magazine saying “she is still focused on her transition to her new role this year”.
While announcing her appointment as CFO, General Motors chief executive Mary Barra had said: “Her experience and leadership in several key roles throughout our financial operations positions her well to build on the strong business results we’ve delivered over the last several years.”
According to the company, when Suryadevara became vice president of corporate finance in 2017, she played “an integral role in the Opel divestiture, Cruise acquisition, Lyft investment and more recently, Softbank’s investment in GM Cruise [a driverless car company].” Now her challenges include a multibillion dollar restructuring of the company, overseeing business development and driving shareholder value. So even though GM has exited the Indian market, Indians still have a reason to follow the fortunes of the Detroit carmaker.
Trailblazing on the Cloud
Thomas Kurian, 50
Chief Executive Officer, Google Cloud
Mountain View, US
Technology news site The Information recently reported that Oracle Corp cofounder Larry Ellison, 74, has started taking a renewed, hands-on role at the company. The reason for this was reportedly to fill the void in the tech major due to the resignation of Thomas Kurian as the president of product development. Kurian, who had worked in Oracle for 22 years, was in charge of a 35,000 member team across 32 countries, leading the push into cloud servers and storage. But in November, he decided to take up the role of the CEO of Google Cloud because of growing strife with Ellison, news agencies reported.
Kurian, who has also worked at McKinsey as a business analyst and engagement manager, was born in the late 1960s in Pampady, Kerala. He has an identical twin, George, who is also a Silicon Valley executive. Thomas has said in interviews that the twins remained grounded due to their strict Christian upbringing, courtesy their mother. Thomas has an MBA in administration and management from Stanford University as an Arjay Miller Scholar and a bachelor of science in electrical engineering and computer science from Princeton University. He serves as a member of the Stanford Graduate School of Business Advisory Council and Princeton University School of Engineering Advisory Council.
Early this year at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference in San Francisco, in his first public announcement as the Google cloud boss, Kurian had said the company would invest even more in sales for its cloud business. This was seen as a challenge to market leaders Amazon & Microsoft. Under his stewardship, Google agreed to buy Looker Data Sciences in a mega $2.6 billion deal last week, expanding its offerings to help customers manage data in the cloud. The acquisition is expected to help Google develop a stronger presence in cloud storage and software.
Vimal Shah, 58
Chairman, Bidco Africa
In 2017, when Vimal Shah stepped down as the CEO of Bidco Africa, the $400-million edible oils and food & beverages company he had cofounded with his father and brother, he was looking at growth and diversification. By bringing in Thiagarajan Ramamurthy as the first non-family CEO, his bet paid off. Bidco Africa is now close to the launch of a Bidco Industrial Park in Kenya, which will house the group’s various food and beverages factories and distribution centres. Bidco is east Africa’s leading manufacturer of edible oils and hygiene and personal care products and recently entered the food & beverages sector launching noodles, juices and carbonated soft drinks. “The industrial park reaffirms our commitment to support the manufacturing sector to enhance Kenya’s economic growth and development,” Shah told ET Magazine.
The group is looking at growing market share across all African markets and achieving leadership position by 2030. “We are getting into newer product categories and more partnerships. The months to come will be marked by aggressive activities around our new brands in the food and beverages categories,” says Shah. The company has more than 50 brands and a footprint in 18 African countries. Manufacturing units are spread across Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Madagascar.
However, despite Indian roots of the Shah family, there are no plans of extending the business to India. “We are clear, for now, that our footprint is only in Africa,” says Shah.
Jyoti Bansal, 40
Entrepreneur & VC
San Francisco Bay, US
Bansal hit the headlines in 2017 when the Silicon Valley startup he had founded, AppDynamics, was acquired by Cisco in 2017. The $3.7 billion deal was stuck just a day before the IPO of the company that makes applications and business performance monitoring software. “That is an extraordinary case study of success,” says Sramana Mitra, a Silicon Valley-based strategy consultant and founder and CEO of global virtual accelerator One Million by One Million. Bansal was born in a small-business family in a small town in Rajasthan. He scored high marks in the IITJEE and joined IITDelhi for a Btech in computer science, graduating in 1999. But his claim to fame is that the first-time entrepreneur managed to secure such a juicy deal.
“I was always very fascinated by startups,” he told Mitra in an interview for her One Million by One Million blog. “I wanted to go to Silicon Valley where all the startup activity is based. Normally, when people graduate from school, you come to Silicon Valley or do a master’s and then get into some industry. I just wanted to work in startups.” His dream came true in 2000, when he joined a small startup founded by a few PhDs from Stanford and MIT. His entrepreneurial journey with AppDynamics started in 2008 after a stint at Wily Technology, a pioneer in web performance monitoring, which was acquired by Computer Associates. Now in the role of Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur and VC, Bansal is the CEO and founder of BIG Labs, a startup studio; CEO and cofounder of Harness, a continuous delivery startup; and cofounder of Unusual Ventures, a $160 million seed fund. The startup studio model, Bansal has said in various interviews, was to experiment and build great products and companies rather than follow the traditional VC, incubator or accelerator paths.
Laxman Narasimhan, 51
Group CEO-designate, Reckitt Benckiser
When US President Donald Trump visited London last month, Rakesh Kapoor, the India-born Group CEO of British consumer goods company Reckitt Benckiser (RB), was one of the few top executives invited for a breakfast meeting with him.
Soon after, RB announced that Laxman Narasimhan, another Indian-origin executive, would succeed Kapoor, who retires from the company at the end of this year. Narasimhan, who will join as group chief executive officer on September 1, is an engineer from Pune University and an MBA from The Wharton School. He will join RB from PepsiCo, where is the chief commercial officer. Earlier, he was the CEO of the American soft drink maker’s Latin America, Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa operations. Before PepsiCo, he worked at McKinsey & Co for 19 years, including a long stint in New Delhi.
India remains among the top markets for RB, which will probably be an advantage for Narasimhan — the second Indian at the helm of the 200-year-old consumer goods giant known for Dettol, Harpic and Strepsils and Mucinex.
Rohit Prasad, 44
Head scientist, Alexa Artificial Intelligence, Amazon
Ask Alexa who Rohit Prasad is and all you will hear is his designation. What Amazon’s smart voice assistant probably does not know is that this engineer from Birla Institute of Technology-Mesra is the brain behind its success, right since its launch in November 2014.
“I have been fortunate and privileged to be in a merit-oriented environment throughout my career,” Prasad tells ET Magazine. He left India in 1997 to do a masters at Illinois Institute of Technology where he researched on low bit-rate speech coding for wireless applications, and two years later joined BBN Technologies, a R&D company, where he worked for the next 14 years. Then, in 2013, he joined Amazon.com as the director of machine learning for Alexa and three years later became vice president. “I have received tremendous support within the organisations I have worked, as well as from the external scientific community,” he says.
Prasad now also has a team of experts in India working for improving Alexa’s capabilities. “I work with them on an ongoing basis. The work ranges from launching new Alexa capabilities and experiences in India to underlying scientific and engineering advances,” he says. So how is Alexa evolving? He says the voice assistant will become more useful with better natural interaction and ability to more complex tasks. “Alexa will learn new skills, use more context to decide how best to handle a particular request, and automate the process whereby she learns faster from experience,” he says.
Decoding the Brain
Dr Mriganka Sur, 64
Newton Professor of Neuroscience and head of department of brain and cognitive sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
His research is devoted to understanding how the human brain works, how it is wired during development and how it changes as we learn and remember. He is also at the helm of the neurosciences ecosystem at MIT geared towards excellence in research and teaching.
“We aim to understand disorders of the brain and how to treat them. Neuroscience is an extremely exciting field, with new discoveries being made every day, fuelled by new ideas and technologies. I am privileged to have outstanding students and colleagues who share with me the excitement of our field,” says Sur, who was born in Fatehgarh, Uttar Pradesh. An alumnus of IIT-Kanpur (1974 batch), Sur is now associated with the Center for Computational Brain Research at IIT-Madras.
“This is an important start in building a neuroscience division at the IITs. It aims to bring new computational and theoretical ideas from engineering into neuroscience, and ideas from brain science to build the next generation of intelligent systems.” He is collaborating with several faculty members at IIT-Madras to build a successful group of students and faculty members working on neuroscience and machine learning.
Hello Retail, Meet Tech
Suresh Kumar, 54
Global Chief Technology Officer and Chief Development Officer, Walmart
Silicon Valley, US
As Walmart goes for a technology push in its attempt to take on Amazon, the man for the mission is Suresh Kumar. The IIT-Madras alumnus has been appointed in the dual role of global chief technology officer and chief development officer and will be reporting directly to CEO Doug McMillon.
Kumar has worked with American tech giants for over 25 years. He was most recently at Google as vice-president and general manager of display, video, app ads and analytics. Earlier, he was corporate vice-president of Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure and operations. Most interestingly, he was at Walmart’s rival Amazon for over 15 years, eventually becoming vice-president of technology for retail systems and operations, leading the retail supply chain and inventory management systems.
Mc Millon acknowledged this in his message announcing Kumar’s appointment. “Suresh has a unique understanding of the intersection of technology and retail, including supply chain, and has deep experience in advertising, cloud and machine learning. And, he has a track record of working in partnership with business teams to drive results.”
Kumar, who lives in Cupertino, will continue to work out of Silicon Valley — at the Sunyvale office of the Arkansas-headquartered retail behemoth. As global CTO, he will devise the world’s biggest retailer’s technical strategy, combining advances in computing with Walmart’s strengths to deliver the best customer experience.
Rajeev Suri, 51
Suri, the India-born CEO of Finnish telecom giant Nokia, has something in common with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella — both studied engineering at Manipal Institute of Technology. Suri, who is a citizen of Singapore, has been the Nokia boss since 2014 and was earlier the CEO of Nokia Solutions and Networks. He is described by the company as the driving force behind Nokia’s acquisition of Alcatel-Lucent, its successful expansion into enterprise markets, the creation of a standalone software business and the return of the Nokia brand to mobile phone market.
In his previous role, Suri was credited with delivering a turnaround, increasing the value of the Nokia Solutions and Networks from around €1 billion to more than €10 billion. All eyes are now on the 51-year-old’s leadership amid the roll out of 5G network services across the world. As Chinese telecom giant Huawei faces US regulatory issues, rival Nokia is looking to grab more 5G contracts. At the annual shareholder meeting in May, Suri said there could be a “long term opportunity” for Nokia due to the clampdown Huawei is facing in the US.
Anu Aiyengar, 45
MD, Head of North American Mergers & Acquisitions, JP Morgan
New York, US
As a top dealmaker in a Wall Street powerhouse, Anu Aiyengar is trusted by clients around the world with billions of dollars worth of transactions.
And she thanks her Indian roots. “The focus on math in my early education, the creative approach to problem-solving and growing up in a diverse culture — speaking four different languages and attending nine different schools — have all contributed to my success. It taught me to adapt and change communication styles depending on the audience,” she told ET Magazine. She has been called the Deal Doyenne of Wall Street. But she says she found adjusting to a different culture — both in America and in investment banking — a challenge when she first interviewed for a Wall Street job two decades back.
As the co-chair of the investment bank’s women network, Aiyengar is involved with many initiatives across JP Morgan and Wall Street to recruit, mentor and develop women. While she sees companies taking baby steps in increasing the number of women CEOs, she finds boards making great strides in getting more women. “At JP Morgan we want to be a role model for the business community. Promoting women and nurturing their careers is a huge focus — 50% of our operating committee is female. We recently expanded our Women On The Move initiative, which not only focuses on internal initiatives but also supports women-run businesses and helps our clients further their women’s initiatives,” she says.