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When it comes to Indians and CEOs, the headlines in the past few months have been primarily hogged by Satya Nadella, the newly-appointed CEO of Microsoft.
Now that the dust has settled on his appointment, this is a good time to see who else out there are the relatively unheralded 'Nadellas' of the tech world—Indian-origin CEOs who may have made their mark at well-known outfits but who may not have received the kind of overwhelming public adulation that Nadella has recently.
ZDNet unearthed five of them who warrant mentioning, not just because they were the top dogs at their companies, but because of what they did while there. Four out of the five have been turnaround artists, responsible for salvaging the fortunes of companies that were either rapidly tanking or whose futures were in some peril. Almost all of them took risky, counterintuitive bets that made these turnarounds possible.
All of them were the quintessential 'Engineer’s CEOs.' Armed with advanced degrees in engineering from well-regarded institutions both in India and overseas, a few were even owners of significant industry patents. This allowed them to forge a sense of camaraderie and fellowship with their engineering work forces who were often low on morale.
The CEOs in this round-up were all heads of product companies and often in fields such as semi-conductors where technology cycles can be disruptive and volatile. Almost all were entrenched in a world where yesterday's solutions could easily be discarded onto tomorrow's dustheaps, necessitating a continuous search for cutting-edge innovation and risk-taking.
Sanjay Jha, Globalfoundries
Globalfoundries, owned by the government of Abu Dhabi, is one of the youngest chip makers in the world, born in 2009 when it acquired Advanced Micro Devices’ semi conductor fab. It operates in an industry that would give any prospective CEO the willies considering its potentially destructive cyclicalities that require massive and frequent capex injections for equipment upgrades.
It is also an industry that is notoriously difficult to make money in as the Chinese have found out, where stuff like a delay of a few minutes in the production process can bleed million of dollars. So, it's not altogether surprising that this semi-conductor fab has chosen Sanjay Jha as its CEO.
Jha, who replaces fellow Indian Ajit Manocha, is most famous for his rescue act at Motorola, a dominant force in mobility in the 1990s in the US, and manufacturer of the iconic Star Tac (at the time the most
He also presciently ditched Symbian and every other kind of operating system the company was in and put all its chips on Android
popular phone in the world). Back then it had a healthy 60 percent share, but as the years passed, with few products (other than the Razr) that caught the public’s imagination, the company quickly lost its sheen causing its share to plummet to a puny 7 percent of the market in the mid-2000s.
According to Forbes, when Jha arrived as co-CEO in 2008, he found a company on its last legs and its organization in tatters, largely because Motorola had somehow missed the bus on every important trend in mobility (Nokia, Blackberry, does this seem familiar?) and was poised to miss the smartphone wave as well.
Described as an 'Engineer's CEO,' Jha, who has a BS in engineering from the University of Liverpool and a PhD in Electronic Engineering from the University of Strathclyde rolled up his sleeves and began working side by side with his fellow techies in order to boost the morale of his battered organization.
He also presciently ditched Symbian and every other kind of operating system the company was in and put all its chips on Android, offering Verizon a chance to salvage its sinking fortunes in its battle with the AT&T-iPhone union.
Apparently, Motorola Droid sold faster than the original iPhone, precipitating the US$12.5 billion buyout by Google—roughly double of its worth at the time that Jha joined the company.
The Bhagalpur, Bihar-born Jha's legacy has even played out in his home country where Motorola’s latest success, the Moto G, has proven to be one of the most successful phone launches in recent Indian history, having already caused waves in other parts of the world before arriving here (the company is now owned by Lenovo).
He may need to muster all of his previously exhibited acumen if he wants Globalfoundries to successfully compete with Industry behemoths Intel and Samsung.