Born: Mombasa, Kenya
Education: Bachelor’s degree, electrical engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay; MBA, University of Michigan
First job: Software developer for a company in India
What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?
Every single person has a great idea. I always make it a point to learn that idea from each person I meet.
What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?
Leaders have to be brutally honest. That’s probably the most important thing. They have to be financially astute, have good understanding of the industry, and to be successful over a long period of time, they have to be great managers and drivers of change.
What are some universal truths you’ve learned about leading a business?
You have to hire great people. You have to be honest. You have to be very focused. You have to look into ways to reinvent the business and yourself. You have to be humble and recognize that what the world knows, what your people know, is a lot more that what you know. You have to glean that wisdom and apply it to your business.
What is your definition of success?
Success to me is setting an objective, then achieving it or overachieving it. The beautiful thing is that it gives you the confidence to try it again, and next time, you set the bar even higher. A smart leader will make sure that his team is constantly succeeding. There is a fantastic energy in success.
Desai on promoting innovation: I have a message to leaders in the community: I strongly believe that America has been successful throughout its history because of its spirit of innovation. Nowhere else in the world is the spirit of innovation so well understood as in America. I believe it is incumbent on the business, community, political and academic leaders to actively promote innovation. It’s what we do very well.