Mr. Nadella and other Indian immigrants before him in the U.S. could succeed thanks to the meritocracy that is the corner-stone of the American system.
Tuesday’s announcement by Microsoft appointing India-born Satya Nadella as its CEO is the culmination of a five-month-long search that began when Steve Ballmer announced his retirement in August last year. After considering some well-known names such as Ford Motor Company CEO Alan Mulally and Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg, the company seems to have made a safe choice by settling for Mr. Nadella, a Microsoft veteran of 22 years. Mr. Nadella is known to be strong in technology, having headed less-glamorous but high tech businesses such as the Bing search engine and the cloud and enterprise business solutions. His appointment has elicited positive reactions from analysts and long-time observers of the company, but Mr. Nadella’s challenge has only begun. Microsoft, once an agile corporation quick on its feet, is now a lumbering giant that is playing catch-up in the market. The proliferation of hand-held devices such as tablets and smartphones at the cost of personal computers is posing a major threat to Microsoft. The $78 billion giant has but a marginal presence in operating software for mobile hand-held devices, which prompted it to acquire Nokia’s mobile business recently. Integrating this business with Microsoft seamlessly will be among Mr. Nadella’s first challenges. He has to wrest back a share of the consumer’s mind-space — and wallet — that Microsoft held during the glory days of the personal computer, grappling with the likes of Apple and Google.
In India, the reaction to the appointment has been on predictable lines with the media and the masses alike complimenting themselves on the elevation of “one of their own” to the top of the technology empire. While there is reason to be proud given that Mr. Nadella’s early education was in India and his parents still live here, it would be wrong to scream from the roof-tops that this is yet another event that marks the arrival of India on the world stage. To be sure, Mr. Nadella is not the first person of Indian origin to head a blue-chip American corporation, and nor will he be the last. We should also remember that Mr. Nadella has spent half his life in the U.S. and earned his spurs there. We need to introspect whether this story of an individual — forget an immigrant — rising to the top at so young an age through sheer merit would have been possible in the Indian system. Mr. Nadella and other Indian immigrants before him in the U.S. could succeed thanks to the meritocracy that is the corner-stone of the American system. While we may have our occasional quibbles with America, we need to appreciate and learn from that country on how to respect and reward talent and merit, in any field of human endeavour.