Rustom Desai, MBA ’95:
Rustom Desai spent the first twenty-two years of his life in
India, but when he returned to the country last year to take
the position of president of Corning India, he was shocked
by how much it had changed. “It’s completely different,” he says, “Growth does strange things
to a country’s identity.” From a business standpoint, however, Desai is very excited about
India’s rapid growth, and what that growth might mean for Corning, the company he’s worked
for since being recruited right out of business school.
“Our heart and soul is in innovation,” Desai says, “and it always has been.” In 1879, the company manufactured the bulbs Thomas Edison first used for his newly invented incandescent lamp. In the late forties, Corning made televisions affordable to thousands by creating a way to mass-produce television tubes; and, for almost forty years, the company has been at the forefront of fiber-optic technology.
Today, Desai says, Corning is once again at the forefront of communications as it manufactures keystone components for Liquid Crustal Displays (LCD’s) — commonplace today in televisions, computers, and mobile devices. It is also a key player in the emission control and life sciences industries. Because India’s burgeoning economy is producing both more air pollution and more cell phone users, Desai says a large part of his focus is and will continue to be on developing the telecommunications and environmental sectors into attractive long-term markets for Corning. He also hopes to start a technology dialogue with large Indian multinational companies, to start to understand their needs, and “point the Corning innovation engine towards those needs.”
A devoted amateur photographer, Desai talks about the importance of seeing what other people miss or are simply unwilling to see. He attributes his success in this area to living and working in many regions: Before taking the presidency at Corning India, he represented the company in the U.S., China, and Taiwan, experiences that have enabled him to approach challenges with at least three different sets of eyes. “Everyone has certain blinders,” Desai says, “and as you travel the world, there are opportunities you see before others do. It’s my job to quickly identify those opportunities, and to find a way to build them into real, tangible business for Corning. So far, doing that has kept me happy.”