Informative, and General Reading
Are Indians the Model Immigrants?
By Vivek Wadhwa
A BusinessWeek.com columnist and
accomplished businessman, Wadhwa shares his views on why Indians are
such a successful immigrant group
They have funny accents, occasionally
dress in strange outfits, and some wear turbans and grow beards, yet
Indians have been able to overcome stereotypes to become the U.S.'s most
successful immigrant group. Not only are they leaving their mark in the
field of technology, but also in real estate, journalism, literature,
and entertainment. They run some of the most successful small businesses
and lead a few of the largest corporations. Valuable lessons can be
learned from their various successes.
According to the
2000 Census, the median household income of Indians was $70,708—far
above the national median of $50,046. An Asian-American hospitality
industry advocacy group says that Indians own 50% of all economy lodging
and 37% of all hotels in the U.S. Anna Lee Saxenian, a dean and
professor at University of California, Berkeley, estimates that in the
late 1990s, close to 10% of technology startups in Silicon Valley were
headed by Indians.
You'll find Indian physicians working in almost every hospital as well
as running small-town practices. Indian journalists hold senior
positions at major publications, and Indian faculty have gained senior
appointments at most universities. Last month, Indra Nooyi, an Indian
woman, was named CEO of PepsiCo (PEP
) (see BusinessWeek.com, 8/14/06,
"PepsiCo Shakes It Up").
A MODEST EXPLANATION. Census data show that
81.8% of Indian immigrants arrived in the U.S. after 1980. They received
no special treatment or support and faced the same discrimination and
hardship that any immigrant group does. Yet, they learned to thrive in
American society. Why are Indians such a model immigrant group?
In the absence of scientific research, I'll present my own reasons for
why this group has achieved so much. As an Indian immigrant myself, I
have had the chance to live the American dream. I started two successful
technology companies and served on the boards of several others. To give
back, I co-founded the Carolinas chapter of a networking group called
The Indus Entrepreneurs and mentored dozens of entrepreneurs.
Last year, I joined Duke University as an executive-in-residence to
share my business experience with students (see BusinessWeek.com,
"Degrees of Achievement") and research how the U.S. can maintain its
global competitive advantage (see BusinessWeek.com, 7/10/06,
"Engineering Gap? Fact and Fiction").
The Census Bureau says that 63.9% of
Indians over 25 hold at least a bachelor's degree, compared with the
national average of 24.4%. Media reports routinely profile graduates
from one Indian college—the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). This
is a great school, but most successful Indians I know aren't IIT
graduates. Neither are the doctors, journalists, motel owners, or the
majority of technology executives. Their education comes from a broad
range of colleges in India and the U.S. They believe that education is
the best way to rise above poverty and hardship.
For my generation, what was most socially
acceptable was to become a doctor, engineer, or businessperson.
Therefore, the emphasis was on either learning science or math or
becoming an entrepreneur.
3. Hard work.
With India's competitive and rote-based
education system, children are forced to spend the majority of their
time on their schooling. For better or for worse, it's work, work, and
more work for anyone with access to education.
4. Determination to overcome obstacles.
In a land of over a billion people with a
corrupt government, weak infrastructure, and limited opportunities, it
takes a lot to simply survive, let alone get ahead. Indians learn to be
resilient, battle endless obstacles, and make the most of what they
have. In India, you're on your own and learn to work around the problems
that the state and society create for you.
5. Entrepreneurial spirit.
As corporate strategist C.K. Prahalad
notes in his interview with BusinessWeek's Pete Engardio
(see BusinessWeek.com, 1/23/06,
"Business Prophet"), amidst the poverty, hustle, and bustle of
overcrowded India is a "beehive of entrepreneurialism and creativity."
After observing street markets, Prahalad says that "every individual is
engaged in a business of some kind—whether it is selling single cloves
of garlic, squeezing sugar cane juice for pennies a glass, or hauling
TVs." This entrepreneurial sprit is something that most Indians grow up
6. Recognizing diversity.
Indians hold many ethnic, racial, gender,
and caste biases. But to succeed, they learn to overlook or adapt these
biases when necessary. There are six major religions in India, and the
Indian constitution recognizes 22 regional languages. Every region in
the country has its own customs and character.
Talk to almost any immigrant, regardless
of origin, and he will share stories about leaving social status behind
in his home country and working his way up from the bottom of the ladder
in his adopted land. It's a humbling process, but humility is an asset
in entrepreneurship. You learn many valuable lessons when you start from
scratch and work your way to success.
8. Family support/values.
In the absence of a social safety net,
the family takes on a very important role in Indian culture. Family
members provide all kinds of support and guidance to those in need.
9. Financial management.
Indians generally pride themselves on
being fiscally conservative. Their businesses usually watch every penny
and spend within their means.
10. Forming and leveraging networks.
Indians immigrants found that one of the
secrets to success was to learn from those who had paved the trails (see
"Ask for Help and Offer It").
Some examples: Successful Indian technologists in Silicon Valley formed
an organization called The Indus Entrepreneurs to mentor other
entrepreneurs and provide a forum for networking. TiE is reputed to have
helped launch hundreds of startups, some of which achieved billions in
market capitalization. This was a group I turned to when I needed help.
Top Indian journalists and academics created the South Asian Journalists
Association (SAJA) to provide networking and assistance to newcomers.
SAJA runs journalism conferences and workshops, and provides
scholarships to aspiring South-Asian student journalists.
In the entertainment industry, fledgling filmmakers formed the South
Asian American Films and Arts Association (SAAFA). Their mission is the
promotion of South Asian cinematic and artistic endeavors, and mentoring
11. Giving back.
The most successful entrepreneurs I know
believe in giving back to the community and society that has given them
so much opportunity. TiE founders invested great effort to ensure that
their organization was open, inclusive, and integrated with mainstream
American society. Their No. 1 rule was that their charter members would
give without taking. SAJA officers work for top publications and
universities, yet they volunteer their evenings and weekends to run an
organization to assist newcomers.
12. Integration and acceptance.
The Pew Global Attitudes Project, which
conducts worldwide public opinion surveys, has shown that Indians
predominantly hold favorable opinions of the U.S. When Indians immigrate
to the U.S, they usually come to share the American dream and work hard
Indians have achieved more overall business success in less time in the
U.S. than any other recent immigrant group. They have shown what can be
achieved by integrating themselves into U.S. society and taking
advantage of all the opportunities the country offers.
Source: Business Week
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