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Home > News > Report

From the Editors: How we chose our winners

March 24, 2007 11:17 IST

Indra Nooyi: The India Abroad Person of the Year 2006

While honouring her as the fourth most powerful businesswoman in the world, Forbes magazine pointed out that only an extraordinarily gifted person could handle the office of president, or CFO, at a company with sales of over $33 billion.

Indra Krishnamurthy Nooyi, Forbes pointed out, handled both since 2001. And that was merely a halfway house -- in October 2006, she became Pepsi's chief executive officer.

Enough said? Not nearly: in May 2007, a mere 13 years after joining the company as its chief strategist, Nooyi will take over the corner office as chairman of PepsiCo.

Her rise has been so dramatic, so startlingly swift, that rankings have become outdated even before they were published. Fortune magazine, thus, ranked her the most powerful businesswoman in the world for the year 2006 -- and this was before she was named chairman of the company.

Her achievements alone would suffice to make her the shoo-in favourite as the community's choice for India Abroad Person of the Year 2006 -- yet, there is much more to her than her professional accomplishments. Those who speak of Indra Nooyi suggest that she shattered the glass ceiling, and showed that women could match, even exceed, men at the dizziest heights of corporate America. Indra Nooyi has proved that, yes, but so have other women who have attained the highest peaks of business success.

Nooyi resonates with the Indian-American community for two other reasons that are not easily quantifiable. Firstly, she has proved that it is possible to be a daughter, wife and devoted mother -- and yet find the time and space for high achievement. That plays right into the community's cultural ethos, that values a woman as homemaker, while increasingly recognizing that she can be much more, do much more in the larger world outside.

Secondly, and equally importantly, she has proved through personal example that you do not need to hide who you are, pretend to be something you are not, in order to be successful. Indra Nooyi is, first, a grateful daughter, unabashedly eloquent in reiterating how her parents, particularly her mother, instilled in her the virtues she holds most dear, the values that have helped shape her into the achiever she is. She is, next, a wife and mother, clear in her mind that the needs of husband Raj and her two daughters are as important to her as are the needs of the larger family of Pepsi employees whose fates and fortunes she oversees.

Indra Nooyi is American in the energy, enterprise and innovation she brings to her professional life; yet, she manages this without sacrificing the Indian-ness that is an essential ingredient in her personality. The story of how the young Indra wore saris to her early job interviews is already the stuff of legend; an image of Ganesha has pride of place on her work table, and visitors are as apt to be drawn into a discussion of the elephant-headed god's place in Hindu iconography as into discussing the best practices of business.

For a community caught between two positions -- to stay true to your heritage, or to assimilate, to merge, with the culture of the adopted land -- Indra Nooyi is the perfect example; her life, her achievements, indicating that the highest of accomplishment is possible without sacrificing who, and what, you are.

It is with pride that the community names her Person of the Year 2006, and with pleasure that India Abroad validates that popular choice.

Swadesh ChatterjeeSwadesh Chatterjee: The India Abroad Community Leader of the Year Award 2006

Communities need leaders; the need becomes more pronounced as the community grows -- in number, in wealth, prestige and influence.

These leaders need to be visionaries; people who can tap into the community's strengths, who can harness the community's abilities to best effect, who can shape its course and give it direction and purpose.

It is to recognize the need of the Indian-American community for such leaders that India Abroad institutes, this year, the annual Community Leader of the Year Award. And it is with great pleasure that we present the first in the series to businessman, entrepreneur and activist Swadesh Chatterjee, of North Carolina.

His accomplishments are familiar to the community: it was during his tenure as president of the Indian American Forum for Political Education, for instance, that the community's clout in Washington DC grew to the point where the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans grew into the second largest caucus on the Hill. For his efforts, the government of India awarded him the Padma Bhushan in 2001.

It was when the United States Congress took up for hearing the US-India Civilian Nuclear Co-operation Bill, though, that Swadesh came into his own.

He realized, early on, that the bill would face much opposition; that its passage was by no means certain unless the majority of lawmakers were given a push in the right direction. Reasoning thus, he took it upon himself to provide that push, by bringing fellow community leaders together under a common umbrella, with the stated intention of proselytising for the deal.

The story of what he accomplished, and how, has been narrated in detail. It is not, however, only for this accomplishment that we pick Swadesh Chatterjee for this inaugural honour. He has consistently maintained that it was by no means a solo effort, that he was not some lone warrior battling on behalf of his community and his mother country. In earlier interviews, he has taken great pains to enumerate the names of every single community leader who gave generously of time, energies, money and influence to help push the nuclear deal through Congress, and the Senate.

The over-arching achievement for which we honour him is this: in bringing dozens of top community leaders together, in getting them to put aside their partisan differences and work together for a common cause, Swadesh Chatterjee not only gave the community a new template for tomorrow, he also taught an important lesson: in unity, lies our strength.

Sunita WilliamsSunita Williams: The India Abroad Publisher's Special Award for Excellence 2006

On the face of it, India Abroad's pick needs no explanation.

The 42-year-old resident of Needham, Massachusetts has had an exemplary career, channelling her degree in physical science and masters in Engineering Management into a stint with the United States Armed Forces. During her relatively brief stint with the Navy, she won the Commendation Medal (twice); the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal; and the Humanitarian Service Medal, among other honours.

In June 1988, she was selected by NASA for astronaut training; she has since worked with the Russian Space Agency on the International Space Station, and played a key backup role in the first international crew sent to the ISS. On December 10, 2006, she took her place in the space shuttle Discovery, as part of the Space Shuttle mission STS-116. Eight days later, she took her first space walk; from that point on, the records began tumbling.

She has made an unprecedented three space walks in the space of nine days. She has logged 29 hours 17 minutes in the course of four space walks -- the most by any woman astronaut. By the end of her tour of duty, she will have logged the most hours in space by any NASA astronaut, ever (She had, earlier, stayed underwater for nine days in the Aquarius habitat).

Her accomplishments are unprecedented, and deserving of the many honours that have come her way. Yet there is, over and above these quantifiable achievements, one other reason why India Abroad picks her for the Publisher's Special Award for Excellence 2006.

The Indian-American community in the United States can be very broadly classed into two types: those who have clung fiercely to the traditions, culture and iconography of the mother country, and those who have moved away from those and embraced the culture and values of their adopted land.

There is never a right or wrong to these things; there is definitely no intent, on our part, to judge either of these alternatives as right, and the other as wrong. Which brings us to Sunita Williams: a young woman who opted, early on, to don uniform in defence of her adopted land. A young woman who chose to marry Michael J Williams, a native of her adopted land. A young woman who chose to dedicate herself to helping push back the frontiers of knowledge, with her work in outer space. And, finally, a woman who, when she stepped abroad Discovery that day three months ago, carried with her a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, the repository of the ancient wisdom of her motherland; an idol of Ganesha, that most beloved member of the Hindu pantheon; and a plateful of Samosas, the typically Indian fast food that, for her, was another thread linking her heritage with her present.

Her accomplishments make her a role model for our young to follow; her ability to balance the old and the new, to be the all-American achiever while yet retaining the values and heritage she inherited from her parents Bonnie and Deepak Pandya -- for this, we honour her.

Salman RushdieSalman Rushdie: India Abroad Lifetime Achievement Award 2006

There are achievements that are quantifiable in the space of a given 12-month period, though they may, by their nature, reach back into the past and forward into the future. And then there are achievements that span a lifetime -- a river of achievement, if you will, flowing quietly along as a vital undercurrent of our collective lives.

The first kind is the heartbeat of our community, our world; the second, the perennial lifeblood that sustains, nourishes, facilitates all that we are and do on a daily basis.

India Abroad has, since the inception of the annual awards, honoured the first variety -- spectacular achievement in the course of a given year. This year, we institute an annual award for the second -- sustained achievement over a lifetime.

To introduce Salman Rushdie, recipient of the first-ever India Abroad Lifetime Achievement Award, is an exercise in the superfluous. They said of the legendary Ray Charles that you do not produce him; you just get out of his way. So it is with Rushdie -- you do not introduce him, you get out of his way and let him shape the words, and his world, as he will.

He has been doing just that, ever since he burst on the literary scene with his first novel, Grimus, in 1975. He has to his credit 15 works of fiction and non-fiction; his mantelpiece overflows with the honours and awards his work has won over the years; his name has, in the course of a 32-year-long career of sustained excellence, become one to reckon with.

If that was all there was, Salman Rushdie would be just yet another author, albeit one of incandescent talent. In choosing to honour him, India Abroad picks a lesser-known aspect of his accomplishments, his career. If this aspect could be epitomized in one book, it would be the seminal Midnight's Children (1981) -- a work that was considered so significant that it not only won the Booker Prize in the year of its publication, but was subsequently awarded the Booker of Bookers, as the best Booker-winning novel in the first 25 years of the premier award's existence.

That book did more than establish Rushdie in the foremost pantheon of contemporary authors; it helped shape the course that Indian writing in English would follow, over the next two decades.

Rushdie has been celebrated for his writing; he has been feted, and attacked, for his controversy-generating stands on the issues of the day. What is less well known is that he has, over the years, mentored and influenced an entire generation of young Indian writers, thus helping to reshape Indian literature in English in the post-colonial era.

And he has done this with an admirable absence of fuss and fanfare. His works, his ideas, have acquired lasting fame; through the writers he has mentored and influenced, he has ensured that his influence, like a river, flows through his successors -- sustaining, nourishing, affirming.