In the middle of a congested and polluted city in southern India there is a private high school you've probably never heard of, but it has produced the CEOs of three huge corporations making products you likely use almost every day. 

The Hyderabad Public School (which is actually a private school by the American definition of the term) lies along a small river not far from a large lake lined with mostly sad-looking amusement parks sitting at the center of India's tech metropolis.

I recently visited this section of the city when I was in Hyderabad for a wedding and it happened to be the same week Ivanka Trump was in town to speak at an entrepreneurship conference. There, the President's daughter mentioned that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella came up in this bustling urban jumble spawned by our modern era of globalization. 

But it's not as though Nadella is the city's lone hometown hero. Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen and Mastercard chief exec Ajay Banga are also alums of the very same school, which is itself not nearly so run-down looking as other parts of Hyderabad. The school was founded to educate the children of elites and remains one of the top schools in the country.

Other notable graduates include Prem Watsa, founder of Fairfax Financial Holdings, sometimes called the "Warren Buffett of Canada."

"I don't know. Maybe it was the water," Nadella quipped when asked about the international success of he and his fellow Hyderabad alumni in a recent interview with Freakonomics Radio.

He went on to expound on the impact of his early education in India:

"I do believe that there is a certain structure to the educational system of that country that I think I definitely benefited from and all the others you mentioned benefited from. The high school I went to I think was -- the four or five of us who went there, we were very fond of the place because I think it was formative in very different ways. Shantanu was a debater. I was a cricketer, and we all learned different things there, but both of us are fond of that institution. I think more than anything else, it gave us the freedom to think, learn, and pursue bold dreams."

Coming from the top of Indian society surely helped, but nonetheless the business leaders that came out of Hyderabad are surely driven to succeed.

I don't think it has anything to do with the water though. I've seen the water in that neighborhood and it's filthy. Perhaps that's what motivated students there to strive for something better.

Ok, so maybe it could be the water after all. 

Published on: Apr 4, 2018
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