He was a year junior to cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle at the upmarket Hyderabad Public School, and the duo made a crack debate team. The debating skills have obviously come in quite handy for Shantanu Narayen, 41, though in a different field.
He has convinced customers the world over about the superior software offerings of Adobe Systems Inc. Under his leadership, Adobe launched the highly ambitious Creative Suite, the sales of which went beyond analysts' most optimistic projections.
The reward has come in swiftly. Early this week, the $1.7-billion information technology major appointed Narayen its president and chief operating officer (COO), which makes him second-in-command to Adobe Chief Executive Officer Bruce Chizen.
In his new position, Narayen takes over much of the company's day-to-day operations from Chizen who will now shift his focus to long-term strategies and growth.
Adobe has not had a COO since 1998. Adobe executives describe the new set-up as similar to how Adobe co-chairmen and co-founders John Warnock and Charles Geschke had split duties. "Adobe has demonstrated that the two can lead successfully," an executive said.
Earlier, as executive vice-president of the worldwide products division, Narayen, an electronics engineer from the Osmania University, successfully oversaw all worldwide research and development for Adobe's award-winning products.
Narayen, who was in the capital this week to inaugurate the company's second research and development centre in Noida at an investment of $ 8 million, says the Silicon Valley can have an extremely energising effect with talented people from all round the world. "The Valley gave me an opportunity to pursue an idea all the way," he says.
Narayen has enough reasons to say so. Before joining Adobe in 1998, he co-founded software-maker Pictra in 1996. Pictra received the Photo Marketing Association's most innovative software award in 1997 for its PictraShare and PictraNet software, making Narayen an early pioneer of digital photo sharing over the Internet.
He was also director at Silicon Graphics Inc and held various senior management positions at Apple. Narayen immigrated to the US from India in 1984 to attend graduate school, earning master's degrees from Bowling Green State University in Ohio and the University of California-Berkeley's Haas School of Business.
The Adobe India centre, Narayen says, will play an important role in the company's overall emphasis on integrated innovation, Adobe's franchisees and partnerships in India with TCS and Wipro were of great importance to the company, he said.
His colleagues say that one of Narayen's greatest strengths is he is as much a nuts and bolts man as he a strategy-minded top boss. To add to that, the COO has an "incredible memory", adds a colleague.He is also a former competitive sailor, representing India in the 1981 Asian Sailing Regatta. But these days he's more likely to be found on the court with his two sons pursuing the family's passion for tennis. That is, during his extremely limited leisure hours.