(November 30, 2021) For months now speculation has been rife that Twitter’s founder Jack Dorsey was to step down as CEO. The search was on for a suitable successor, and it finally ended on Monday when the company announced that its Indian-origin Chief Technical Officer Parag Agrawal will helm the social media giant as Chief Executive Officer. The news sent cheer across the subcontinent as one more US major appointed a person of Indian origin into a leadership role. Agrawal, at 37-years of age, is also one of the youngest Indian-origin executives in the US.
He joins the august club that includes Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai, IBM’s Arvind Krishna, Adobe’s Shantanu Narayen, VMWare’s Raghu Raghuram, and Deloitte’s Puneet Renjen.
The news has been lauded by several industry leaders such as Elon Musk, Tesla and Patrick Collison, CEO, Stripe. While Collison tweeted, “Google, Microsoft, Adobe, IBM, Palo Alto Networks, and now Twitter run by CEOs who grew up in India. Wonderful to watch the amazing success of Indians in the technology world and a good reminder of the opportunity America offers to immigrants.” Musk replied saying, “USA benefits greatly from Indian talent!”
USA benefits greatly from Indian talent!
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 29, 2021
Man of the hour
Parag Agrawal was born and raised in Mumbai, and is an alum of IIT-Bombay. His father was a senior official at the Indian Department of Atomic Energy and his mother, a school teacher. As a student, his brilliance was already noticeable when he bagged a gold medal at the 2001 International Physics Olympiad in Turkey. He schooled at Atomic Energy Central School, and graduated in computer science engineering from IIT Bombay in 2005. A PhD from Stanford University in computer science, his depth of experience working for majors like Microsoft, AT&T Labs and Yahoo! during his research avatar gave him an edge that he has since embellished.
Parag joined Twitter in 2011 as a distinguished software engineer, and gradually rose up the ranks of CTO in 2017. In fact, Parag was the company’s first distinguished engineer, and his work across revenue and consumer engineering, including his impact on the re-acceleration of audience growth in 2016 and 2017 added a notch to his resume. As CTO, he was responsible for Twitter’s technical strategy, leading work to improve development velocity while advancing the state of machine learning across the company, a company release stated.
What also worked in Parag’s favour was that he is well-liked across the company, including Dorsey. “He’s been my choice for some time given how deeply he understands the company and its needs. Parag has been behind every critical decision that helped turn this company around. He’s curious, probing, rational, creative, demanding, self-aware and humble,” Dorsey wrote in a message to Twitter.
not sure anyone has heard but,
I resigned from Twitter pic.twitter.com/G5tUkSSxkl
— jack⚡️ (@jack) November 29, 2021
Bolstered by arduous work and talent
According to a report published in Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Indian Americans form the second largest immigrant group in the US with population well past the 4 million mark. In fact, the Bay Area, where Parag now lives, is home to the second largest Indian American population in the US, after New York area.
The talent and innovation brought to the table by Indian Americans has been propelling several to leadership roles. Anand Mahindra, of the Mahindra Group too tweeted, “This is one pandemic that we are happy and proud to say originated in India. It’s the Indian CEO Virus… No vaccine against it.”
This is one pandemic that we are happy & proud to say originated in India. It’s the Indian CEO Virus… No vaccine against it. 😊 https://t.co/Dl28r7nu0u
— anand mahindra (@anandmahindra) November 29, 2021
The Indian formula to success
R Gopalakrishnan, management veteran, former Tata Sons honcho and author of The Made in India Manager concurs that Indians are primed for management and leadership roles. “This is a trend that is getting clearer by the day. At least 10 of the major companies in the US have persons of Indian origin helming them. The principal reason for this is the fact that Indian management executives are like gladiators. They’ve been training for management roles their entire lives without even being aware of it. They are extremely competitive and are unfazed by the constant hurdles that come their way,” says R Gopalakrishnan, adding how management is like a performing art, and with an Indian’s ability to adapt to any scenario. Their critical thinking skills using relationship orientation make them prime candidates for management roles.
Brand India for the win
As more Indians take on leadership roles across the globe, especially in the US, they are adding heft to Brand India and the pool of talent that the subcontinent offers.
This move will help Twitter smoothen ties in India where it has been running into troubled waters. Industry veteran Tiger Ramesh, former CEO, CSS Corp, avers that this could also be an attempt to build a better relationship with India, and arrest the downward spiral. “Home grown Koo is gaining market share over Twitter as well. By making its CTO the CEO, Twitter will want to be able to defend and protect its platform and architecture from the growing demand from many countries for regulating it. Twitter has become very controversial around the world spurred by the arrogant attitude and image of Jack Dorsey. By making an Indian-born the CEO, it will be seen as a move to change this image. The world has seen Sundar Pichai, Satya Nadella, and many others build more credible images for their respective organisations worldwide, especially with India, which is the largest emerging market.”
Destiny too had a role to play in Agrawal’s personal life. His wife Vineeta Agarwala also studied at Stanford University, and after a happy courtship, the couple was married at Amber Vilas in Jaipur in a colourful and jubilant traditional Indian wedding. Vineeta has a BS in biophysics from Stanford University, with an MD and PhD from Harvard Medical School/MIT. Vineeta is a physician, and works as adjunct clinical professor at Stanford School of Medicine. They have a son Aansh who was born on Thanksgiving. A love for travel, an eye for the perfect shot, and a profound belief in family, Parag often posts pictures of his travels and family on social media.
As he takes on the mantle of CEO, Agrawal has a slew of tasks cut out. In his note to the company before inviting all employees for a hands-on meeting on November 29, Agrawal wrote, “Thank you, Jack. I’m honored and humbled… Our purpose has never been more important. Our people and our culture are unlike anything in the world. There is no limit to what we can do together. We recently updated our strategy to hit ambitious goals, and I believe that strategy to be bold and right. But our critical challenge is how we work to execute against it and that’s how we’ll make Twitter the best it can be for our customers, shareholders, and for each of you.”
The other Indian on Twitter
Incidentally, Twitter also has an Indian-origin lawyer Vijaya Gadde who was in the limelight earlier this year for helping suspend Donald Trump’s Twitter account. Gadde, a corporate lawyer, spearheaded the suspension of Trump’s account after his posts encouraged and supported rioters in the US.
With inputs from TEAM GLOBAL INDIAN
Follow Parag Agrawal on LinkedIn and Twitter