A Banker with a Soft Corner for India
Nikesh Arora occupied top positions at Google joining SoftBank as President and COO. The frenetic pace of investing has earned Arora and SoftBank a special place in the hearts of Indian entrepreneurs.
Arora is considered by his colleagues as a team person. A globetrotter, Arora is, however, an Indian at heart. He has Indian food at home, his family speaks in Hindi.
Nikesh Arora has a penchant for making news. When he left Google, one of the fastest growing companies in the world, in mid-2014, to join Japan’s SoftBank Corp as Vice Chairman of the group and CEO of SoftBank Internet and Media Inc, it definitely made news. Arora left Google, resigning from the post of Senior Vice President and Chief Business Officer. He was the highest paid employee of that company then.
Arora also made news when he married Ayesha Thapar in July 2014. Indian newspapers called it the mother of all fat Punjabi weddings, which was attended by the Who’s Who of Silicon Valley, and Hollywood stars like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. The wedding took place at Borgo Egnazia Resort in Savelletri di Fasano, Italy.
For both, Ayesha and Nikesh, it was their second marriage. Ayesha was married to Miami-based Turkish telecom tycoon earlier, and Nikesh was married to Kiran, with whom he has a daughter. New Delhi-based Ayesha is heir to Indian City Properties. On June 2, 2015, Ayesha gave birth to a lovely baby boy, who was named Kiaan, meaning king.
Nikesh was born in Ghaziabad. His father was an Indian Air Force officer. He graduated from IIT Varanasi in electrical engineering in 1989. Nikesh Arora holds a degree from Boston College and an MBA from Northeastern University.
Arora joined Google Inc in 2004 and held several positions in that company, including that of its Chief Business Officer and Senior Vice President until mid-2014. Previously he served as the Chief Marketing Officer.
Arora looked after Google’s European operations from 2004 to 2007, and then took over charge of handling Middle East and African markets. In 2011, he became Google’s Chief Business Officer. As per Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Arora received $57.1 million (or Rs 344 crore) in 2013. As Google’s top sales executive, Arora was instrumental in opening up new advertising markets. According to Forbes, Google under Arora’s leadership made big inroads into display ads and was pushing to get more brand advertisers to look beyond television and print magazines to run more ads on Google’s YouTube video site as well as its network of a million other websites to which it syndicates display ads.
Arora is considered by his colleagues as a team person. A globetrotter, Arora is, however, an Indian at heart. He has Indian food at home, his family speaks in Hindi and like many Indians, he watches cricket matches. He’s also a keen golfer.
Arora is fond of recounting his beginnings: he came to the US for attending a business school in 1990 with $3,000 and a suitcase. He graduated top of his class at Northeastern University. Twenty-five years later, he counts among his friends the likes of Jerry Yang, Larry Ellison and Evan Spiegel.
“The frenetic pace of their investing has earned Arora and SoftBank a royal distinction among India’s entrepreneurs. Before he joined, SoftBank made big bets in a few places.”
The tall and handsome Arora has a large fan following, especially in India. He can crack jokes about Indian culture in Hindi in one breath and warn start-ups about their addiction to “other people’s money” in the next. He’s one of the business elites known in his country as a “global Indian,” a group that includes the CEOs of Microsoft, PepsiCo and Google. But a few traits set him apart from those executives. His compensation was higher—$135 million in 2014, counting his signing bonus. His lifestyle is flashier. And, most important to entrepreneurs, he visits his homeland with a fat cheque book, and few have put as much money to work in India as SoftBank, which, after Arora joined it, has invested more than $1 billion in India’s hottest start-ups, including Oyo Rooms, Ola Cabs and Snapdeal.
It’s all part of SoftBank’s hunt for growth-driving tech business. The frenetic pace of their investing has earned Arora and SoftBank a royal distinction among India’s entrepreneurs. Before he joined, SoftBank made big bets in a few places, Arora says. “Now we’re making a lot of bets in a lot of places.”
But he faces challenges. Arora is best known for whipping Google, a freewheeling young business, into a disciplined organization that scaled dizzy heights. He is said to have done that with a no-nonsense approach that bulldozed opposition. Now Arora, alongside founder and current CEO Masayoshi Son, is trying to help SoftBank evolve into a global, tech-focused institution.
“Masayoshi Son has never had a problem taking big bets,” Arora says. “What we have to do now is take that genius and figure out a way to at least institutionalize some of his values, so the future generation of SoftBank can actually execute in the same way that he does.”