India — For Punit Renjen, the Indian-American chief executive officer (CEO) of the accounting giant, Deloitte, it is personal. Almost six per cent of his company’s 50,000 employees in India have been infected by Covid-19 at one time or the other, and some of them, tragically, did not make it. His own family has been hit. His 81-year-old mother was infected in mid-April. She has since recovered.
Deloitte is among 55 major companies that have stepped up in the United States (US) to help India during the ongoing second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. US corporates have altogether pledged or already sent $400 million aid in cash or kind, in addition to the $100 million worth of assistance by the Joe Biden administration. Deloitte sent 12,000 oxygen concentrators as the first consignment shipped off by the Global Task Force set up the US Chamber of Commerce, a powerful lobbying group.
“Six per cent of my Deloitte family got infected, and we lost some very young people,” Renjen said. And then “my mother, my father and my chacha (uncle), aunt, a number of my cousins were infected as well. So this is a very personal, familial situation.”
It has been personal for many of the CEOs and leaders of Indian-descent, now helming major global companies. They have felt compelled to act by illnesses and fatalities among colleagues, close relatives and friends. Not all of those contacted agreed to speak but people who know many of them averred that there is nothing else that is driving them more than the harrowing accounts they are seeing and hearing of first-hand from people around them, at work and home.
In fact, the entire relief effort started on a very personal note, among three men who went to the same school, Hyderabad Public School, Begumpet. Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella, Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen and MasterCard Executive Chairman Ajay Banga. One Sunday, in mid-April, when India was getting swept by the pandemic, they got talking – something had to be done. And they called Mukesh Aghi, CEO of US-India Strategic Partnership Forum, an influential advocacy group representing major US companies invested in India.
“That’s how the whole concept started, and then we got other companies involved,” Aghi said, adding, “It did start because this is personal.” That Sunday conversation has snowballed into a $400 million effort, together with the US-India Business Council, an arm of the US Chamber of Commerce. Aghi says he expects the corporate assistance to go up to $1 billion.
It’s personal for them: Nadella, Banga, Narayen, Aghi and Renjen, who, by the way, talks with his mother twice every day. And if he doesn’t, he gets an earful: “Kya baat hai, phone kyon nahi kiya. Bade busy ho gaye ho? Bahut bade admi ban gaye ho?” (What is the matter, you didn’t call. You have become very busy? You have become a big person, is it?”) The call of loved ones has heralded an unprecedented effort by corporate America and its Indian-origin leaders.