It’s not easy for Asian Americans to move to the top of the corporate ladder. Research shows that this segment of the population has often been overlooked for managerial and executive positions, although that may soon change thanks to the growing list of high-profile success stories.
Some of the biggest companies are run—or have been run—by Asian Americans, and many of them have done a remarkable job of boosting revenues, profitability, and shareholder value. In this article, we identify the Asian American chief executive officers (CEOs) who sit or sat at the helm of the world’s largest corporations and did such a good job capitalizing on opportunities and engineering positive change that they are now considered Wall Street legends.
- Three of the 10 biggest companies in the world are run by Asian Americans.
- These legendary CEOs were all born in Asian countries and moved to America as immigrants before later becoming citizens.
CEO of Google and Alphabet
Sundar Pichai is perhaps the most recognizable Asian American CEO because he oversees one of the highest-profile businesses in the world: Google. India-born Pichai was hired by Google in 2004 to lead the development of its toolbar and now-famous Internet browser, Chrome. He excelled, moved up in the ranks, and reached the top job of CEO 11 years later. Since taking over the reins of the search engine company, its share price has more than quadrupled in value.
CEO of Broadcom
Malaysia-born Hock Tan is adored by Wall Street. He’s turned Broadcom, the company he became CEO of in 2006, into a computer-chip giant thanks to a series of well-executed acquisitions, the ability to extract value from niche product lines, his demanding personality, and an obsession with cutting costs.
CEO of Advanced Micro Devices
Lisa Su took over as CEO of Advanced Micro Devices in 2014 when it was on the brink of bankruptcy. Under Taiwain-born Su, things soon changed. She got the company to focus on doing what it is good at; went after the computer gaming, cloud, and data-center market; dumped assets that weren’t up to scratch; tidied up the balance sheet; and transformed the chipmaker into a market leader.
CEO of Zoom
Eric Yuan is the man behind Zoom, the videoconferencing giant that has been on a roll since the COVID-19 pandemic hit and people were forced to stay at home. The idea came to him while taking 10-hour train trips in his native China to visit his now-wife, and it eventually made him a billionaire, at least on paper. Yuan overcame many obstacles to take his company public and was ranked the best CEO by Comparably in 2020.
CEO of NVIDIA
Jensen Huang went from working the graveyard shift at Denny’s to building a company that makes as much money in a day as his former employer makes in a year. In 1993, Taiwan-born Huang founded NVIDIA, a maker of graphics cards for PCs. Today, with Huang still at the helm, NVIDIA ranks as one of the biggest companies in America and the world with a market capitalization of around $500 billion.
CEO of Microsoft
Satya Nadella became CEO of Microsoft in 2014, 22 years after first joining the company. During his time as chief, he made the computer giant relevant and innovative again, steering it away from a failing mobile strategy toward cloud computing and augmented reality. India-born Nadella’s achievements and popular managerial approach have made him influential among his peers, who named him the “most underrated” CEO for six consecutive years.
CEO of Adobe
When Shantanu Narayen took over as CEO of Adobe in 2007, the company behind PDFs and Photoshop was running out of steam and going stale. India-born Narayen soon changed that. Under his watch, the company’s software moved from the desktop to the cloud, and its market capitalization ballooned from approximately $24 billion to around $193 billion in 2022.
Former CEO of PepsiCo
Indra Nooyi became the first woman and immigrant to run a Fortune 500 company when she was appointed CEO of PepsiCo in 2006. In the 12 years that followed, she easily vindicated PepsiCo’s decision to offer her its top job. India-born Nooyi was behind the company’s drive to become healthier and left the food and beverage maker much better positioned to survive and flourish in the future. Her 2021 autobiography, My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future, became a New York Times bestseller.
Former CEO of Mastercard
India-born Ajay Banga was handed the reins at Mastercard in 2010 after it had just gone public and was chased down by new disruptors such as Square. He responded by unleashing a series of innovations that, coupled with an increase in consumer spending, led revenues to triple during his time at the helm.
CEO of Micron
Sanjay Mehrotra has a long-term track record of success. Since taking over as CEO of Micron in 2017, he has increased revenues, tidied up the balance sheet, and generated enough excess cash to buy back shares and start paying a quarterly dividend. Before that, India-born Mehrotra earned plaudits for turning SanDisk, the flash memory company he founded in 1988, into an industry-leading Fortune 500 company and engineering its multibillion-dollar sale to hard-disk maker Western Digital Corp.
How Many CEOs Are Asian American?
Forty Asian Americans sat at the helm of S&P 500 and Fortune 500 companies in 2021.
Which Asian American CEO Is the Highest Paid?
In 2020, the highest-paid Asian American CEO was Eric Wu, the man behind real estate startup Opendoor.
How Many Fortune 500 Companies Were Founded by Immigrants?
A lot, apparently. According to a 2019 report from New American Economy, nearly 45% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children.
The Bottom Line
The CEOs mentioned above are legendary because they run (or ran) some of the world’s biggest, best-known companies and passed the test with flying colors. As managers, each of them helped to revolutionize the businesses they are in charge of running and made those investors who believed in them from the start an absolute fortune.