From Pichai to Khosrowshahi, America remains the world's melting pot for immigrants

Immigrants are the bedrock of America’s global tech prowess and Americans continue to embrace that fact, which is good for the rest of us

Harichandan Arakali
Published: 31, Aug 2017

I'm the Technology Editor at Forbes India and I love writing about all things tech. Explaining the big picture, where tech meets business and society, is what drives me. I don't get to do that every day, but I live for those well-crafted stories, written simply, sans jargon.

Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi poses for a portrait during the 2010 Reuters Travel and Leisure Summit in New York February 22, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS TRAVEL) - GM1E62M1SVL01
Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi poses for a portrait during the 2010 Reuters Travel and Leisure Summit in New York February 22, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Uber, the world’s most valuable startup, has become almost as much a part of the lexicon that we often use in conversation as ‘Googling’ something. Startups and businesses in Bengaluru and Mumbai describe themselves as ‘an Uber for’ whatever niche line of business they expect to make a success of in the digital age.

Travis Kalanick, the founder of Uber Technologies Inc., of Slovak-Austrian roots, couldn’t have anticipated that the ridesharing giant he built would be led by an Iranian-American one day. On Tuesday, Uber announced it had enticed away Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of travel services company Expedia, to become its new leader after a company-wide sexual harassment scandal became the last straw that forced Kalanick out of the corner office.

In the America of President Donald Trump, who came to power on promises including walling the world’s biggest economy off of southern neighbour Mexico, and where anti-immigrant jingoism has reared its ugly head, Uber’s new CEO appointment brings more than just hope to an embattled company with big investors.

It inspires the rest of us, around the world and here in India, by keeping alive a powerful dream — that others too can continue to go where Sundar Pichai and Satya Nadella went, and go farther. Khosrowshahi’s bio, which has become much-read overnight, tells us his family escaped the turmoil of the Iranian revolution to get to America, when he was a boy of nine. He is 48 now, married and has four children.

Uber’s email to employees, which was also shared as a blogpost, says Khosrowshahi grew up in New York, attended Brown University to train as an engineer, and that he chose the temples of Ankor Wat in Cambodia to successfully propose marriage to Sydney Shapiro. In his professional life, Khosrowshahi is known for his work as CEO of Expedia, for 12 years starting 2005, where he increased four-fold the volume of bookings on the online business and more than doubled pre-tax earnings, The Economist pointed out in a piece about him on Tuesday.

Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai is now on the board of directors of parent company Alphabet Inc. And at Microsoft Corp., CEO Satya Nadella — who like many Indian-born Americans, went there to study and stayed on to build a career — is reshaping the company into a provider of solutions in a mobile-first, cloud-first world.

This past year, there’s been much hand-wringing over how President Trump’s immigration policies will kill off short-term work visas for India’s IT services exports. But in the end, real-life successes such as Khosrowshahi — yes, success, not yet at Uber, but what he’s already achieved, which got him to the rides-sharer — demonstrate that sheer ability and willingness to work hard as it takes are still things that Americans value highly.

And those who demonstrate such traits in India will be the ones to eventually build this country’s next generation of success stories in the digital age — even as Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys and Wipro seek to reinvent themselves. Not just Indianised versions of Amazon or Uber, but businesses that will solve big Indian problems in ways yet to be imagined.

The future founders of such ventures, who may be in our schools and colleges today, will surely draw inspiration from the melting pot that America remains. Khosrowshahi’s appointment should help with keeping it that way.

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