From Aryabhatta to Dr. Kalam, India has produced some of the world’s most creative brains. India is also leading when doing business with stalwarts like Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani, Gautam Adani, etc.
Not only within the country, but Indians have also risen to the top worldwide against all odds.
With Parag Agrawal becoming the CEO of Twitter, businesses among the world’s top tech companies are now being led by Indian-origin people.
Be it Google’s Sundar Pichai, Satya Nadella of Microsoft, or Shantanu Narayen of Adobe, or IBM’s Arvin Krishna, Indians are among some of the biggest conglomerates across the globe.
For over several decades, Indians have played a focal role in the success of technology powerhouse worldwide. Not many countries can boast about
making the leaders of the world’s more influential organizations, who play a crucial role in their growths (1, 2, 3).
This post discusses the top CEOs of Indian origin and a possible brain drain in the country.
#1 Parag Agrawal, Twitter, 2021 – Present
Born in Ajmer, India, on 21st May 1984, Parag Agrawal (4) completed his schooling at Atomic Energy Central School No. 4. He had secured 77th rank in the Joint Entrance Exam and enrolled himself in the IIT Bombay. He completed his bachelor’s in Computer Science and Engineering in 2005. Parag also pursued a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Stanford University, USA.
Before joining Twitter in 2011 as a software engineer and eventually being promoted as the CTO in October 2017 and CEO in November 2021, he had served several leadership positions at Microsoft Research and Yahoo! Research.
#2 Sundar Pichai, Google, 2015 – Present
Pichai Sundarajan, also commonly known as Sundar Pichai (5), was born in Tamil Nadu, India. He earned a metallurgical engineering degree from IIT Kharagpur. He also holds an MS from Stanford University and an MBA from Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
In August 2015, Sundar Pichai was named CEO of Google, becoming the only third CEO of the company after former CEO Eric Schmidt and Larry Page. In December 2019, Pichai also became the CEO of Alphabet, the parent company of Google.
#3 Satya Nadella, Microsoft, 2014 – Present
Satya Nadella, from Hyderabad, India, has been the CEO of Microsoft since 2014 (6).
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering from Manipal Institute of Technology, Nadella went for post-graduation in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Notably, Nadella also succeeded John W. Thompson and became the Chairman of Microsoft in 2021.
#4 Shantanu Narayen, Adobe Inc., 2007 – Present
Based in Hyderabad, India, Shantanu Narayen is an Indian American business executive and started his career at Apple (7).
Narayen holds a bachelor’s degree in Science from Osmania University, an MBA from California, and an MS from Bowling Green State University. In December 2007, at 45, Narayen was promoted to CEO of Adobe after joining the organization in 1998. He also represented India in sailing at an Asian Regatta. He is also among the world’s best CEOs by Barron’s Magazine in 2016.
#5 Arvind Krishna, IBM, 2020 – Present
The CEO of IBM, Arvind Krishna (8), was promoted as the Chairman in January 2021. Born in Dehradun, India, Krishna completed his schooling at St. Joseph’s Academy, Dehradun, and the Stanes School, Coonoor, Tamil Nadu.
He completed his bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from IIT Kanpur in 1985 and his Ph.D. Krishna started his career at IBM as an engineer in IBM Research.
#6 Nikesh Arora, Palo Alto Networks, 2018 – Present
Before June 2018, when he became Chairman and CEO of Palo Alto Networks, Nikesh Arora (9) also worked with SoftBank and Google. Arora, born to an Indian Air Force Officer, completed his bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from IIT, BHU, Varanasi. He also holds a Boston College degree and an MBA from Northeastern University.
#7 Laxman Narasimhan, Reckitt Benckiser, 2019 – Present
After leading PepsiCo as CCO, Chief Commercial Officer Laxman Narasimhan became Reckitt Benckiser’s CEO in September 2019 (10).
After finishing his engineering degree in Pune, Narasimhan earned a post-graduate degree from the Lauder Institute, University of Pennsylvania, and an MBA from The Wharton School. He is known for being a multilingual orator; he speaks up to six languages.
#8 Anjali Sud, Vimeo, 2017 – Present
Anjali Sud, the Chief Executive Officer of Vimeo, an open video platform (11). Before she joined Vimeo, Sud had worked with Time Warner and Amazon. She was born in Detroit to Indian parents who had immigrated to the US.
Sud graduated from the Wharton School, the University of Pennsylvania, in 2005 with a BSc in Finance and Management. And later pursued MBA from Harvard in 2011 and assumed the role of CEO of Vimeo in 2017.
#9 Revathi Advaithi, Flex, 2019 – Present
Revathi Advaithi (12) became the CEO of Flex, an American-Singaporean domiciled multinational electronics contract manufacturer, in February 2019.
Before Flex, Advaithi was President and COO for the electrical sector business for Eaton, a power management company. At present, Advaithi also serves on the Board of Directors of Catalyst.org and Uber.
In addition, she is also a member of the Business Roundtable, MIT CEO Advisory Board, the Catalyst CEO Champions For Change initiative. Advaithi was named one of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women in Business for two years in a row in 2020 and 2019 and one of Business Today’s Most Powerful Women in India in 2020.
Advaithi graduated from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani, India, with an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering and a post-graduation degree in Business Administration from the Thunderbird School of Global Management.
#10 George Kurian, NetApp, 2015 – Present
Born in Kottayam, Kerala, George Kurian studied engineering at IIT Madras and left the institute within six months to join Princeton University (13). He completed his bachelor’s in electrical engineering and later joined Stanford University to get an MBA degree.
Kurian became the CEO and President of NetApp, a data and storage management company, in 2015. Before joining NetApp in 2011, he worked with McKinsey & Company, Cisco Systems, and Akamai Technologies.
His diverse background also includes the position of Vice President at Akamai Technologies, management consulting at McKinsey & Company, and leader of software engineering and product management teams at Oracle Corporation.
So, with these names, we have established that India has given the world some of the most prominent leaders in the tech world.
As soon as the news of Indian-origin tech executive Parag Agrawal taking over Twitter as CEO emerged on 29th November, the world lauded it. It soon became the top discussion over several social media platforms, including LinkedIn and Twitter.
On Monday, even Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, shouted out to talented people based in India now residing in the USA after Parag Agrawal was appointed as the CEO of Twitter.
“USA benefits greatly from Indian talent,” stated Musk in a tweet.
He said in reply to a tweet from Patrick Collison, CEO of the payment firm Stripe, how Indian-origin individuals are now at the helm of some of the top tech companies such as IBM, Google, and Microsoft (14, 15).
And it made us wonder about how much of India’s talent pool is working overseas and the status of brain drain in India.
“While we all celebrate the fact that Indians are becoming global IT CEOs, we must also consider what is causing our best to leave the country. How can we reverse this trend in years to come? A country with its best talent immigrating to foreign lands will not win big in the long run,” remarked Kunal Shah, founder of CRED (16).
Many other users have nestled brain drain in their discussion (17).
The Status of Brain Drain in India
According to the latest data available from MHA, Ministry of Home Affairs, over six lakh (0.6 million) Indians have renounced their citizenship in the last five years. In 2021 alone, until 30th September, over 111,287 Indians have surrendered their citizenship. It indicates the amount of brain drain from India (18).
In the last 20 years, there has been a continuous upward drift in the Indians immigrating to foreign nations, excluding a brief jolt in the FY 2008 economic crisis and the pandemic-related restrictions and travel bans in the past two years.
The major destinations for Indian immigrants include six countries affiliated with GCC, Gulf Cooperation Council, the United States, Australia, Canada, the UK, and Italy, among others.
As per a report from Global Wealth Migration, in 2019, India came second only to China in HNIs, high net worth individuals leaving the nation. Notably, as many as 7k HNIs left India in 2019.
In 2020, about 5k millionaires or over 2% of the total HNIs left the country.
As per a report from Morgan Stanely, “35k Indian entrepreneurs of high net worth left India between 2014 and 2020 as NRI or immigrants. India ranked first in exodus worldwide.”
It is also a trend among well-off parents to send their children abroad, especially to the USA, Canada, or other European nations. Notably, as per recent data collected from high-profile private schools in New Delhi, as many as 70% of their students have moved out of India since 2015.
Another data from OECD also suggests that about 60k Indian-trained doctors and over 56k Indian-trained nurses worked in countries like Australia, Candata, the US, and the UK in 2017.
It is also worth highlighting that between the years 2016 and 2020, over 10,600 foreigners applied for Indian citizenship, of which 7,782 were from Pakistan, and over 450 were stateless (19).
Factors Leading to Brain Drain in India
Lack of Higher Education Opportunities
It is among the major reasons for permanent immigration among Indians. Considering the sky-high cut-offs from top Indian universities – 100% in DU (20), many students end up exploring higher education opportunities abroad. They also have many advantages over students from other nations in terms of knowledge and skills.
Both prosperity and poverty can lead to higher immigration. For instance, the new international airport planned in UP can lead to near-demographic certainty and quicker mass immigration from the area, similar to how international airports in Kannur, Thiruvananthapuram, Kozhikode, and Kochi connected Kerala closer to the Gulf.
Low Expenditure in Research
India has the lowest GERD and GDP ratios among the BRICS countries when it comes to research. For many years, India’s gross domestic expenditure on research has stayed at a mere 0.7% of its GDP (21).
Therefore, much talented youth migrate to other nations to continue their research and prove their talent.
The wages offered in India are laughable if you compare it with other developed nations. There is no need to say more; people migrate to other countries if they get better wages. It brings us to our next point.
Almost Zero Recognition of Talent
Despite any individual’s academic or other achievements, no one in India gets the same fame and name as Bollywood actors and cricketers (yes, we get it if you are rolling your eyes, we are too). It leads talented individuals to better places that respect and recognize their talents.
A Higher Standard of Living and a Higher Overall Quality of Life
Most developed countries offer higher salaries, higher standard of living, tax benefits, and much more, which pulls Indian talent to these nations.
Immigrant-Friendly Policies of Developed Nations
Apart from high wages and quality of life, many developed countries have adopted immigrant-friendly policies to retain foreign talents, including young Indians. For instance, France offers citizenship to frontline immigrants in the healthcare industry during the pandemic. Another factor that is contributing to these policies is the aging demography of these developed nations.
Overall, we won’t stretch too far by saying that India has become a leader in brain exporting.
Well, immigration is not that completely bad either. There are many advantages of it as well.
The Pros of Immigration from India
- India will get remittances and skills
- It can make immense contributions to India’s IT ecosystem
- It will strengthen India’s interests abroad; the Indian diaspora acts as a soft power multiplier for our country.
- Immigrants can also act as a network through which ideas and investments can come to India.
What Has the Indian Government Done So Far to Prevent Brain Drain from India?
There are multiple programs set in place to retain talent within the country by the present government:
- INSPIRE, Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research Program for talented Indian youth to study science and strengthen the country’s R&D base.
- The Ramanujan Fellowship for Indian scientists overseas to take scientific research positions in India
- The Ramalingaswami Fellowship for scientists willing to return and work in India
- VAIBHAV, Vaishvik Bharatiya Vaigyanik Summit gathers numerous Indian and Indian-origin academicians and scientists to generate ideas and innovative solutions to challenges.
Moreover, several breakthroughs made by Indian organizations like ISRO’s Mangalyaan Mission, institutes like IITs, IIMs, and DRDO are helping India attract talent (22).
Read Also: India’s Bid to be a Global Leader in the Spacetech
What More Can We Do?
India needs to fill plenty of room to retain and even tap the reservoir of its talent overseas.
It can include adequate investment in cutting-edge technologies and research by increasing total expenditure to at least 2% of our GDP. Improve the overall infrastructure of our country and build more advanced research facilities to bring talented people back to India.
India has a very limited number of institutions for excellence and professional studies. No country has gone up the wealth ladder without the availability of high-quality PUBLIC education.
Hence, India must focus on creating NON-PROFIT PUBLIC institutions of excellence for education, both K-12 and higher.
India can also enhance its public-private collaboration, increase its public funds for joint industrial R&D projects, and make strong global innovation partnerships.
Governments can also build special funds to help India innovate and advance their startups even during a difficult time and become successful.
India doesn’t need to attract foreign nationals. Instead, we should focus on retaining and bringing back our brightest minds. Instead of helping foreign nations achieve their technological and economic breakthroughs, India should focus on retaining its talent to emerge as a global leader (Suggested Reading: India Amongst the Superpowers of 2050).
Hence, the only way forward is to build a world-class public education, healthcare, infrastructure, and other structural reforms. And we won’t be too far away from being a superpower.