Brown in Business

Jigar Shah
Sun King Jigar Shah (Fortune)

It’s no secret that South Asians have gained success in the business world, but it’s still gratfiying to see the mainstream business press give them some coverage (especially women—the Fortune cover with Indra Nooyi was quite the score for brown women). Here, a few recent profiles of young Indian-Americans with some interesting stories about business and business education:

The Sun King
The March 5 (print) issue of Fortune features a Q/A with Jigar Shah, the 32-year-old CEO of Sun-Edison, “the biggest supplier of solar energy in the U.S., [which] has built mini-power plants in about 200 locations, suppling juice for clients like Staples, Costco, Whole Foods Market and California State University at Chico.”

The company was Shah’s brainchild while he was a student at Harvard B-School, and two years and $26 million in venture funds later, Shah is securing his place as the sun king.

He isn’t sure whether the U.S. can become self-sufficient in energy, but he does “know that the Department of Energy has predicted that the U.S. will need to add capacity, about 20 megawatts a year [or about 2 percent of our current annual output] over the next decade, to meet rising demand. Right now renewable energy–wind, solar, geothermal–can supply that whole amount.”

Armed Forces
BusinessWeek.com offers a first-person narrative from Vivek Bhatnagar, who served in the Indian army before pursuing his MBA at Babson College. After the rigors of army life, Bhatnagar thought working in teams in an American MBA program would be a walk in the park.

Not so.

Says Bhatnagar: “The Indian army is composed of officers and soldiers from diverse backgrounds with different languages, upbringings, and even gods of worship. But while we had diversity, one thing that kept us bound together was our common nationality. Switch to Babson, and the team dynamics here was altogether different.”

Apparently, the differences in nationalities and viewpoints in the b-school classroom make for challenging teamwork. After a physical team assignment in which Bhatnagar was the leader, he learned that perhaps his gregarious style wasn’t quite right for an MBA program:

“The intensity and decibel level of my voice reflected the energy levels I usually bring–from sheer habit of my past army life–to any such physically challenging activity.” After ensuring chaos, the team members discussed how such behavior was probably counterproductive.

Bhatnagar responded: “Coming from an armed forces background, it never occurred to me that the qualities that I normally associated with teamwork and team-building could be understood anyway otherwise. In the army we usually are more fired or charged up, energy levels (testosterone levels actually) are quite high, there is a certain sense of urgency which also translates into higher decibel levels. Where others would usually make suggestions, we, kind of, end up ‘barking’ (orders). While this may seem natural when everyone else is from a similar background, it may appear to be too pushy or aggressive for others.”

March 22, 2007
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