So when Fortune magazine lists its Top 20 business persons of the year 2019, first thing Desis do is to check out how many of are country cousins. “Only three?!” asks someone who posts the story on a listserv. Indeed, three out of 20 – about 15 per cent – is a little shy of India’s share of the world population, which is about 18 per cent. Four would have been more appropriate. But for India to be a world beater – or corporate superpower – more will have to come out of India. All three 2019 listers are Indian-Americans. The last Indian honcho to make the list was Aditya Puri of HDFC in 2017.
Two of the 2019 listers are familiar names: Microsoft’s Satya Nadella is at #1 and Mastercard’s Ajay Banga is at #8. The third person is relatively unknown. She is Jayshree Ullal, whose story – when she was a middling manager-techie in Cisco — I first wrote about almost 20 years ago in my book, The Horse That Flew. Here is what Fortune says about her today:
Since arriving from giant rival Cisco in 2008, Ullal has turned Arista into a specialized market leader in Ethernet switches and open-source cloud software. In 2018, its operating margin reached 31.5%, eclipsing Cisco’s 28%. Total revenues are up 37% over the last three years, and even this past “down” quarter, revenues grew 16% year over year to $654 million. It’s impressive stuff from Ullal, an Indian-American born in London and raised in New Delhi.
Yet despite the heady growth, Arista Networks recently found itself in an unfamiliar position: reporting an underwhelming third-quarter, which spooked investors and sent the company’s shares down by more than 25%. CEO Jayshree Ullal blamed the less-than-stellar results on dwindling business with a specific “cloud titan,” a likely reference to Facebook, one of two major buyers of Arista’s networking hardware (Ullal said Microsoft, the other customer, was not the source). And she cautioned the declining orders will affect results in the following quarter. Still, analysts remain confident that Ullal has the track record and prowess to continue steering Arista to new heights.
Satya Nadella though has been profiled extensively. But what is striking in Fortune’s rah-rah profile that chronicles his now well-known hauling of Microsoft to a trillion-dollar behemoth is how he has accomplished that by staying out of Washington’s toxic politics, something rival Amazon has gotten sucked into (mainly by virtue of its CEO Jeff Bezos owning Washington Post). Notes Fortune (now owned by Thai businessman Chatchaval Jiaravanon): Microsoft’s recent win of a $10-billion cloud computing contract from the Pentagon encapsulates the team approach. Microsoft emerged as a technically competent bidder thanks to having invested heavily in a sector Amazon leads. It stayed out of a nasty inside the-Beltway fracas that tripped up others. And because Nadella heard out—and then overruled—employees who opposed working with the government, Microsoft didn’t face a rebellion that might have given pause to contract awarding officials.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.