Dr Rajan Natarajan, 51, a leading entrepreneur, has created history in Maryland by becoming the first Indian American to be appointed to a sub-cabinet level position in the state administration.
Democratic Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley appointed Natarajan as his deputy secretary of state for policy and external affairs, which is the highest administrative office held by any Indian American far in Maryland's history.
Natarajan's responsibilities include representing the governor or secretary of state at designated public and community outreach events, advising the secretary on external affairs, planning and strategies, fostering and promoting international diplomatic relationships, building private community and industry partnerships, overseeing and advancing international sister-state programmes, coordinating the legislative and executive branches of government with the governor's office and overseeing the Maryland International Consortium.
O'Malley told rediff.com he was "Delighted to appoint Dr Rajan Natarajan as the deputy secretary of state for policy and external affairs. He is the first and highest ranking Indian-born American appointed in my current administration."
He said, "Rajan brings a wealth of corporate business and industry experience to my administration," and pointed out that "he has spent much of his professional life in the corporate world helping companies grow."
O'Malley said that Natarajan also "has significant experience in the technology sector and is used to thinking out-of-the box to deliver innovative solutions, commercialisation of technologies and business development."
"Additionally, Rajan has been actively engaged in the business community and has overseen organisations whose very mission is to bring business leaders, deals and partnerships together, and try to identify areas where collaboration can occur," he added.
O'Malley, by appointing Natarajan, was also fulfilling a campaign promise he had made that if he were re-elected governor, he would appoint Indian Americans to senior positions in his administration.
Secretary of State John McDonough, who will be Natarajan's immediate boss, told rediff.com, "I am happy that Rajan has joined our office as the deputy secretary of state for policy and external affairs".
"He brings his unique corporate background and clear understanding of how the government works and can play a vital role in enhancing and empowering public and private community and business partnerships," he said.
McDonough said, "Under my leadership, he will be involved in strengthening existing international programmes and the state's foreign relationships and also forging new ones as part of his official duties."
Natarajan came to the US in 1989 to pursue his post-doctoral research at the Michigan State University and then become a biotechnology scientist. After completing his MBA in 1999, he became a technology entrepreneur and business leader. He brings over 20 years of extensive industry and private sector experience and senior leadership background in the areas of business management and administration, technology development and commercialisation, information technology and biotechnology, and economic development to his first stint in public sector.
Ike Leggett, county executive of Montgomery County, the largest and most affluent county in Maryland with a significant Indian American population, said, "Rajan Natarajan has been an extraordinary asset to Montgomery County and I know his experience will be exceptionally valuable in this new endeavour."
These sentiments were echoed by leaders in the Maryland legislature.
Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola recalled, "I first met Rajan several years ago when I was president of the Maryland India Business Roundtable."
"I have had the opportunity to get to know Rajan well over the years in both business and community settings. I believe he will make an excellent deputy secretary of state and I appreciate his continued service to the State of Maryland and his community," he said.
Similar sentiments were expressed on the House side too, with the longest-serving Indian American legislator, Maryland House Majority Leader Kumar Barve, saying, "I could not be more pleased with this appointment. Rajan will be perfect for refocusing our business strategy in Asia, especially South Asia."
Newly elected Indian American delegate Aruna Miller of District 15 in Montgomery County , while expressing her elation over Natarajan's appointment, said, "Rajan is a tremendous business leader in the technology industry, a community activist and a visionary. We, members of the Indian American community, have always valued his talented and generous spirit and now, all Marylanders will benefit from the wealth of talent and dedication he will bring to the office of the secretary of state."
There was much celebration in the Indian American community in Maryland too, with long-time community leaders like Dr Sambhu Banik, who serves on the Governor's Human Resource Commission commending O'Malley "for his wisdom and vision in appointing such an accomplished person and high achiever like Dr Rajan Natarajan to such a senior position."
"Rajan has been a well known and highly successful IT businessman who developed an excellent networking relationships with the business as well as influential Indian American Community winning the hearts of the O'Malley administration," he said.
Banik said, "I am so happy and pleased that Governor O'Malley has selected one of our cream of the crop of the Indian American Community in Maryland. Being the first Indian American in this highly visible policy making position, it (the appointment) will elevate the stature of all Indian Americans living in this country and inspire others to follow his footsteps."
"I have known Rajan over the years and I have developed great respect for him, for his integrity, honesty, sincerity and his unique interpersonal skills. I am confident that he will prove to be an outstanding deputy secretary of state," he said.
Bob Nathan, president of the Maryland India Business Roundtable, who succeeded Natarajan in this organisation that promotes Maryland-India business, particularly among Indian American entrepreneurs in the state, said, "Rajan is an eminently well qualified, visionary community organiser and leader, who has a wonderful gift to interact with and impact the lives of everyone he comes in contact with."
"He has a great talent for building powerful and enduring relationships, which he uses to help the community he serves in, both the mainstream and minority American communities," he said, adding that Natarajan has "inspired, energised, and motivated members to bring out the best in them and give back to the community."
Nathan said, "He has a sharp focus on what he needs to do to achieve the mission of the organisation and the community he serves and goes out and gets it done. You bet he will be an asset and someone of great pride to the community."
Natarajan told rediff.com, "I am truly honoured to be offered this great opportunity and to be part of the O'Malley administration and to serve under the governor's and Secretary of State McDonough's leadership."
"I am so thankful and grateful to the governor, lieutenant governor and the secretary of state for entrusting me to oversee an important government portfolio and I take on this responsibility to serve in the interest of the citizens of Maryland and work with the office of the secretary of state to bring its critical vision into action," he said.
Natarajan noted that "as the first Indian-born American to serve the citizens of Maryland as the deputy secretary of state for external affairs, I will be able to communicate and relate effectively with Maryland's diverse population."
In the past decade-and-a-half, Natarajan has founded several businesses and headed up community and non-profit organisations, in addition to serving on several state, county, and local boards and commissions, including as a member of the Governor's International Advisory Council and on the board of directors of the Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce.
Prior to his new appointment, Natarajan served as the vice oresident of government initiatives at GANTECH, one of the fastest-growing technology companies in Maryland.
He has received numerous commendations and awards from various organisations including the National Science Foundation's Small Business Innovation Research Award, Indian National Young Scientist Merit Award, Outstanding Community Leadership award and Emerging Business Leadership award.
Natarajan was born in Pudukkottai District, Tamil Nadu. He holds an M Phil from the Madras University, a MSc in Botany from Poondi Puishpam College in Thanjavur and a BSc in Botany from Rajah's College in Pudukkottai.
After the completion of his doctoral degree in bioscience at the University of Madras, he came to the US in 1989 to pursue post-doctoral research at the Michigan State University, from where he also pursued a MBA.