Parag Agarwal’s appointment to the top position on Twitter enhances the role of immigrants in the world’s top tech firms.
Twitter Inc. Monday became the latest Silicon Valley titan to appoint an Indian-origin chief executive, joining the likes of Microsoft and Google in recognizing the Asian country as one of the world’s richest pools of tech talent.
The appointment of former chief technology officer Parag Agarwal to the top spot on Twitter enhances the role played by immigrants at the world’s largest technology companies. He joins Microsoft Corp’s Satya Nadella, Adobe Inc.’s Shantanu Narain, International Business Machines Corp’s Arvind Krishna and Alphabet Inc.’s Sundar Pichai among the highest-profile leaders of Indian-American firms. Between them, that group of executives operates companies with a combined market value of $5 trillion. Outside of tech, Indra Nooyi led PepsiCo Inc for 12 years and Ajay Banga is executive chairman of Mastercard Inc after a decade as CEO.
Like his Wally compatriots, Agarwal comes from a technical background and worked his way up within the company. At 37 years old, he is the youngest CEO of any S&P 500 firm. Agarwal received his engineering degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, which has spawned generations of prominent politicians and corporate leaders, including Pichai and Krishna, as the country’s premier technical college. He set foot in Silicon Valley after attending Stanford University for a doctorate in computer science.
“Being Indian is a big advantage now, people expect us to be good engineers and good managers,” said Vivek Wadhwa, a Distinguished Fellow at Harvard Law School and author of a book on Nadella’s rise at Microsoft. “As per what I know, Parag Agarwal shares Satya’s values and has a similar management style.”
Twitter co-founder and outgoing CEO Jack Dorsey hailed Agarwal’s technical abilities as “transformative” in his note upon stepping down. But it will be the skills of the new leader that will soon be tested in navigating thorny issues such as free speech, race relations and relations with governments.
In a rare interview a year ago, Agarwal described Twitter’s way of dealing with misinformation as “an increasingly nuanced approach with a series of interventions”. Echoing Dorsey’s longstanding emphasis on trying to keep Twitter a neutral platform, he said that “we try not to judge the truth, we focus on the potential for harm.”
In the country of his birth, where Twitter has nearly 20 million users, Agarwal’s company has been attacked on multiple fronts by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The administration there has criticized its reluctance to handle messages of support for farmer protests and tweets by leaders from both sides of the political divide. Twitter plays the same role in domestic political discourse as it does in the US, with Modi alone on his account of 73 million followers.
According to Wadhwa, raising Agarwal will help. “Jack’s arrogance shut down many governments,” he said. “If you notice how Microsoft has not been a target of the left or the right in America, it is because of their ability to listen and balance truth and criticism. I hope Agarwal does the same.”
Till date, Agarwal has maintained a low profile and his experience is concentrated in product development and market research. He was named Twitter’s first distinguished engineer for his role in driving audience growth and revenue prior to becoming CTO. Now CEO, he will find it necessary to navigate a friendly course with India to expand those goals of broadening Twitter’s reach. The country is already the largest user base with half a billion users of Meta Platforms Inc.’s WhatsApp, Alphabet’s YouTube has almost as large an audience and Twitter counts it among its fastest growing markets.