Here’s an intriguing fact. Almost half of the Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants. And many current CEOs of some of the biggest companies in the world are international students who came to the United States to study and then built an empire.
There are plenty of inspiring stories to turn to for the student looking to study abroad and turn their big dreams to reality. Here is an introduction to some women and men who blazed a trail ahead of you and paved the way.
1. Sundar Pichai-Google
Sundar Pichai is now well-known as the face of Google and a CEO of one of the, if not the biggest tech giants in the world. But he comes from a middle-class Indian family in Tamil Nadu that did not own a car or a telephone (until he was twelve.)
He did manage to get admitted to the Metallurgy department at the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur (IIT-KGP), one of the country’s best technological schools. There, his professors suggested he apply for a Ph.D. at Stanford University. Instead, he chose to do an MS in Material Sciences and Engineering.
Instead of continuing with a Ph.D. afterward, he dropped out, joined Silicon Valley as an engineer and product manager for a semiconductor manufacturer and the rest is history. He would quit his job later, earn an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and earn the distinction of being a Palmer Scholar and a Siebel Scholar.
He worked at McKinsey & Company for a while, before joining Google in 2004. Pichai is known for being diplomatic and highly influential in the company. He was a great player behind the success of Google Drive, he started with a small team and founded the Google browser, among other things. Today, he’s worth $150 million.
2. Elon Musk- SpaceX
Elon Musk is a great 21st-century innovator. He is CTO and CEO of SpaceX, chief product architect of Tesla Motors, co-founder of PayPal and chairman of SolarCity. He is working on the Hyperloop. His investments are made in disruptive technologies. He’s a modern inventor who may have done well no matter what his educational trajectory was.
But as it is, Musk was born in South Africa, got interested in computers (his first was the Commodore VIC-20) at the age of nine, and boldly decided to emigrate to the United States without his parents at the age of 17. He lived with relatives in Canada on the way there, studied in Ontario for two years, then received a scholarship from the University of Pennsylvania at The Wharton School where Sundar Pichai went a few years later. Since then, his life has been a string of innovations and bright ideas, despite his battle with depression.
3. Satya Nadella- Microsoft
Satya Nadella, current CEO of Microsoft since 2014 is an Indian-American born in Hyderabad. He received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Manipal Institute of Technology before travelling to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for his MS in Computer Science. He would then earn an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Always longing to build things, working with computers gave him the opportunity to do that. Nadella worked with Sun Microsystems before joining Microsoft in 1992. He also enjoys poetry and cricket.
4. Indra Nooyi- PepsiCo
Indian business executive Indra Nooyi went to study relatively late in the United States before the world was as global as it is now. At her time, it was not as common as it is now for young adults to seek higher education abroad.
She was born in Chennai and completed her post-graduation from a top management college, Indian Institute of Management Calcutta (IIMC), in India. An interesting bit of trivia from this era of her life is that she was an average student at IIMC. Her class performance did not stop her from getting a job at Johnson &Johnson, where she played an important role in the launch of the sanitary napkin Stayfree.
Her ambition did not stop there. Being a woman in a conservative society, she needed to convince her parents to allow her to study at Yale Management School, in Public and Private Management. While at Yale, she even worked as a receptionist so she could buy a suit for her interview. But she was uncomfortable in it. For her next interview, she wore a sari. The philosophy of being true to yourself has now become a watchword with her.
Today, Indra Nooyi has been leading PepsiCo for over a decade, doubled its net profit, raised annual revenues by 72 percent and made innovations in the brand.
5. Shantanu Narayen- Adobe
CEO of Adobe, Shantanu Narayen has won the Padma Shri in 2019, which is India’s greatest civilian honor award. He is also from Hyderabad, the hometown of Satya Nadella and now a major technology hub in India. After graduating from Osmania University in India, he would earn an MBA from the University of California’s Berkeley campus and a Master’s in Computer Science from Ohio’s Bowling Green State University.
He started his career in Apple and later co-founded a pioneering company Pictra Inc., that was one of the first to make digital sharing of photos possible over the internet. He joined Adobe in 1998 and has been CEO for over a decade since 2007.
6. Sergey Brin- Co-founded Google X
When one thinks of immigrant CEOs, Sergey Brin is high on the list. He was born in Moscow, but his parents moved to Maryland when he was in elementary school. He was home-schooled in his early years.
He would earn his Bachelor of Science from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Maryland with honors at the age of 19. Then he would study at Stanford on a scholarship, intern at Wolfram Research before meeting Larry Page at Stanford and founding Google.
7. Jan Koum- Co-foundered WhatsApp
Ukraine-born Jan Koum moved with his mother to Mountain View California when he was sixteen. He would work as a cleaner at a grocery store and lose his mother to cancer. But at the age of 18, he enrolled at San Jose State University and got a job as security tested at Ernst & Young, where his interest in programming came in useful.
He would go on to work for Yahoo, apply to Facebook (and then get rejected), launch WhatsApp in 2009 and then finally be offered $19 billion for WhatsApp by the same company that had rejected his job application!
8. Mike Krieger- Co-founded Instagram and Kevin Systrom
Instagram founder Mike Krieger was born in Brazil and attended Stanford University in 2004. There he met the man with whom he would found Instagram, Kevin Systron. Today he is worth $300 million and has pledged $750,000 over the next two years in charity.
9. Safra Catz- Oracle Corporation
Safra Catz was only six when her parents moved to Brooklyn, Massachusetts from Holon, Israel. But she deserves a spot on this list as a graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She also earned a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1986. Today she runs Oracle Corporation as a co-CEO, sharing the position with Mark Hurd.
10. Ivan Menezes- Diageo,
The CEO of Diageo, a British multinational alcohol company on the FTSE 100, Ivan Menezes is a graduate of IIM, Ahmedabad in India. He would leave India to pursue higher education at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. He joined Diageo in 1997 and is also a director of the US fashion retailer Coach, Inc.
It is clear from this list that not while many leaders of the world come from privileged backgrounds, there are others who are self-made and made the most of their international education.