Engineer, Institution Builder & CEO of Adobe Systems

Indian technology talent also sits at the top of the creative tools industry. Shantanu Narayen, born in 1963 in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, currently serves as the CEO of Adobe Systems – a software and services company the develops the world famous Photoshop among other products. Growing up in Hyderabad, Narayen went to Osmania University and gained a degree in Electronics Engineering before moving to the US. There he obtained a Masters in Business from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Masters in Computer Science from the Bowling Green State University in Ohio. He kicked off his computer graphics career at Apple before moving to Silicon Graphics to be its Director of desktop collaboration products.

Leaving SGI after an intense stint, he went on to co-found the pioneer of digital photo sharing over the internet, Pictra Inc. In 1998 Narayen started his so-far 16-year long career at Adobe, joining the company as Vice President of worldwide product research. He was later promoted to executive VP of the company in 2005 at the age of 41. Narayen was one of the driving forces behind Adobe’s US$ 3.4 billion acquisition of multi-media company Macromedia in 2005, before being appointed CEO in 2007. President Barack Obama recognised Narayen in 2011 by appointing him as a member of the new Management Advisory Board, which was established by an Executive Order in 2010 to advise on how to implement the best technology practices within the government.

“Innovation has been near and dear to my heart and the software industry in India has been a matter of pride, to see how it’s transformed itself in the past 20 odd years,” says the Palo Alto, California-based Narayen. As someone who left Hyderabad a few decades ago to study in the US, the immediate assessment of change is typical. “The traffic is now 10x, your antibodies are not what they used to be, (and I) can’t eat at roadside vendors like I used to be able to and loved.” Narayen’s story is as typical as it is unusual. He got himself an engineering degree because in those days engineering and medicine were the most sought after professions, and the sight of blood “scared the heck out” of him. One among the thousands of young men who packed mom’s pickles in a suitcase and headed to the US in the 1980s — “it was a little bit of following your father’s and brother’s footsteps, sort of a ‘Go West, young man’ thing”— he went through the grind of getting a master’s degree in computer science and a master’s in business administration. So far so good; then he decided to join a start-up in 1986 — Measurex Automation Systems, instead of picking an established multinational firm during campus recruitment as some others would have done. “I didn’t start a company, I was part of a start-up,” he emphasizes. “It was a well-funded (start-up) called Measurex. In your first job, you are looking for some good experience. It’s much more rapid-fire learning when you are at a start-up.” Narayen, who was instrumental in the US$ 3.4 billion takeover of Macromedia (which developed Flash) and the US$ 1.8 billion acquisition of Omniture in 2009, says Adobe needs to keep innovating because “there’s always two people in a garage some where in the world”— a reference to the kind of ingenuity that can come from anywhere and invent the next big thing. “Unless you are nimble … as a colleague says, failure is not an option. It makes you paranoid if anything.” Yet Narayen sleeps reasonably well at night, provided it’s in his own bed. He travels about three months in a year, so when on the road he gets sleep deprived. “I would say this whole notion of balance (work and personal) that people talk about, that’s a myth,” he says. “On the other hand, I have multiple passions. It is true; you think about Adobe a lot.

People have been known to say something about a certain competitor to see if that shakes me off my putting stroke (while playing golf, which he manages to do once a week).” He quotes some research at Stanford that found people with teenage children tend to be more grounded. His sons Shravan, 20, and Arjun, 16, are tech-savvy, giving Narayen more tips on which direction his work needs to go. “It’s a fascinating experiment to see what they do, how they consume their media.”

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