Marketplace Radio: Indians Ascendant in Silicon Valley

It’s nothing we didn’t already know – in fact, it’s a trend that’s been evident for some time: the ascendancy of Indian techies to the pinnacle of Silicon Valley’s elite. American Public Media’s Marketplace broadcast commented on this trend in a recent radio piece, with a nod to perhaps the most conspicuous example: Satya Nadella, who recently took the helm as the new CEO of Microsoft – perhaps the most iconic of American tech companies. [See Indians’ Dreams are Silicon Valley Reality, by Queena Kim, Marketplace, 20.Feb.2014.]

What’s most remarkable about this development, the Marketplace article suggests, is precisely that it’s no longer so remarkable for a major American high-tech firm to have an Indian CEO. As Venktesh Shukla, a prominent Silicon Valley entrepreneur, told Marketplace, Indian talent is now in such high demand that people joke about new tech companies not getting funded unless they have at least one Indian co-founder!

Mr. Shukla should know: according to Marketplace, he’s not only “a serial entrepreneur and investor who has been involved in starting up about 30 tech companies,” he’s also president of the Silicon Valley chapter of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), a prestigious international network of entrepreneurs and C-level executives who have roots or business interests – or both – in the Indus region. Regular readers of the MurthyBlog may recall that Murthy Law Firm founder and president, Sheela Murthy, is an active board member of TiE’s D.C. chapter. [See Sheela Murthy Elected to Board of TiE DC, MurthyBlog, 14.Dec.2012.]

Thirty years ago, the situation was very different. Immigration researcher and high-tech entrepreneur, Vivek Wadhwa, told Marketplace that Indian immigrants had to overcome a prejudice that somehow they were not “CEO material,” and they did so not only by excelling in their work, but by building their own networks in Silicon Valley – including organizations like TiE.

Today, newcomers to Silicon Valley may find it hard to imagine a time when Indian engineers and entrepreneurs were not seamlessly interwoven with the fabric of the community. Indeed, the area is now home to a thriving Indian-American population. As Mr. Shukla pointed out to Marketplace reporter, Queena Kim, on a drive down a main thoroughfare in the heart of Silicon Valley, “Every second or third outfit, you’ll see an Indian grocery store or an Indian sweet store or an Indian style beauty salon.” And now, increasingly, throughout Silicon Valley, you’ll see IndianAmericans in virtually every boardroom and executive suite.

Though it’s a quintessentially Indian story, it could not be more American, as a narrative of immigrant enterprise and initiative, and the social integration that follows behind the first big wave of migration. It’s a piece that’s worth listening to in its entirety.

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