Landmark year for Indian Americans in the administration, legal circles

A rush of high-level appointments, like never before.

By Deepak Chitnis

WASHINGTON, DC: The year 2013 saw an astonishing number of Indian Americans ascend to some of the highest positions in the political and business arenas.

Here is a recap of some of the most notable names to have received prestigious appointments over the course of the year:

Political – National Level:

Nisha Desai Biswal, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs

Nisha Desai Biswal was appointed to the position of Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs by President Barack Obama in July, and her swearing in took place in November. She is now Secretary of State John Kerry’s right-hand woman when it comes to affairs in south and central Asia.

Biswal, who holds a B.A. from the University of Virginia, has made a career out of working in diplomatic capacities regarding south Asia. She was previously with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), where she oversaw the distribution of $1.2 billion of assistance funding to 22 different countries from central Asia to the Pacific Islands. Before that, she was the Majority Clerk for the State Department and Foreign Operations Subcommittee on the Committee on Appropriations in the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as the Director of Policy and Advocacy at InterAction, the largest alliance of U.S. based international humanitarian and development non-governmental organizations.

Gargee Ghosh, Global Development Council (GCD)

President Barack Obama tapped Gargee Ghosh to join the Global Development Council (GDC) in November.

Ghosh was previously the director of Policy Analysis and Financing at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the premiere charities in the world, where she worked with international and government agencies to allocate and distribute funding. She has also worked for Google, the Center for Global Development, and was a senior expert at the McKinsey & Company law practice in Washington, DC. She is also a member of the University of California, San Francisco’s Global Health Group advisory group.

Frank Islam, Kennedy Center Board of Trustees

Entrepreneur Frank Islam was nominated by President Barack Obama to the Kennedy Center Board of Trustees in September.

Islam was the founder and CEO of the QSS Group, a very successful IT company founded in 1994 that generated profits upwards of $300 million. He sold the company, and founded FI Investment Group LLC in 2007. He is a recipient of the 1999 Ernst & Young Maryland Entrepreneur of the Year and, in 2001, was recognized as the Small Business Person of the Year for the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area by the US Small Business Administration.

Arun Kumar, Assistant Secretary and Director General of the US and Foreign Commercial Service

Arun M. Kumar was nominated to the position of Assistant Secretary and Director General of the US and Foreign Commercial Service, which is part of the Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration, by President Barack Obama in October.

Kumar earned his BS from the University of Kerala, in physics. He then received his Master’s degree in Management from MIT’s Sloan School of Management. Kumar was the CFO of Elite Microelectronics from 1990-1991. In 1993, he founded software company Planning & Logic, Inc. and stayed with it until 1995, at which point he joined KPMG as a Finance Management Leader. He led the firm’s US-India practice from 2007-2013, and also its West Coast Finance Management Consulting Practice.

Vivek Murthy, Surgeon General

President Barack Obama nominated physician Dr. Vivek Murthy to be the next US Surgeon General, the highest medical position in the country.

Murthy earned his bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, then went on to receive his M.D. from the Yale School of Medicine and his M.B.A. from the Yale School of Management. In 1995, he co-founded VISIONS Worldwide, a non-profit organization focused on HIV/AIDS education in India and the US, at which he served as President until 2000 and Chairman of the Board from then until 2003. Currently, Murthy is a Hospitalist Attending Physician and Instructor in Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School.

Azita Raji, Member of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowship

Azita Raji was appointed as a Member of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowship in September.

Raji is a 1983 graduate of Barnard College with degrees in architecture and French, and she also has an MBA degree in finance from Columbia Business School, and is also a Chartered Financial Analyst. She became a major fundraiser for Obama during his 2008 run for the White House and was in the same league as former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Vogue editor Anna Wintour, and Dreamworks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, all of whom raised more than $500,000 in the last elections to help Obama hold onto the White House.

Sri Srinivasan, US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

Although technically appointed last year by President Barack Obama, Srinivasan was confirmed as the first South Asian on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, this year.

Srinivasan was born in Chandigarh but raised in Kansas, where he grew up as a basketball star and a die-hard Jayhawks fan, in part because both of his parents were professors at the University of Kansas. He attended Stanford University. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1989 and a prestigious J.D./M.B.A. from Stanford Law and Stanford Graduate School of Business in 1995. He went on to become a partner at O’Melveny and Myers in Washington, DC.

Puneet Talwar, Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs

Puneet Talwar was nominated by President Barack Obama to be the Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs back in September.

Known as a Middle Eastern foreign policy guru, Talwar graduated from Cornell University before earning his master’s degree at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. From 1990 to 1992, he was an official with the United Nations. Following that, he was a foreign policy advisor to Rep. Thomas C. Sawyer (D-OH) until 1995. From 1997-1999, he was the chief Middle East foreign policy advisor to Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), who is now the US Vice-President and is considering running in 2016 to succeed Obama at the head of the country. From 2001-2009, he was a Senior Professional Staff Member on the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations. Since 2009, Talwar has been part of the Obama administration as a top policy advisor for the Middle East region.

Political – State Level

Nandita Berry, Secretary of State of Texas

Nandita Berry was appointed as the 109th Secretary of State of Texas, by the state’s governor Rick Perry, and is the first Indian American to ever be appointed to that post in the state’s history.

Berry came to the US when she was 21 years old. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Houston, and earned her law degree from the University of Houston Law Center. In addition to being a member of the State Bar of Texas and the Houston Bar Association, she is a senior counsel at the law firm of Locke Lord LLP. She is the wife of Houston-based Conservative talk radio host Michael Berry.

Vince Chhabria, United States District Judge for the Northern District of California

Vince Girdhari Chhabria was nominated by Obama to be the United States District Judge for the Northern District of California back in July.

A graduate of University of California Santa Cruz in 1991, Chabbria received his JD from the Boalt Hall School of Law at UC Berkeley in 1998. Chhabria served as a law clerk to Judge Charles Breyer of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, from 1998 to 1999. He also clerked for Judge James R. Browning of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, from 1999 to 2000.I n 2001, he worked as an associate at the law firm of Keker & Van Nest, LLP, and that same year went on to work for Justice Stephen G. Breyer of the United States Supreme Court. From 2002 to 2004, he worked as an associate at the law firm of Covington & Burling, LLP.

Sunil Kulkarni – State Judge in Northern California

Sunil R. Kulkarni became the first South Asian ever appointed as a state judge in northern California in September, when he was named by state Governor Jerry Brown.

A native of Los Angeles, Kulkarni earned his Bachelor’s degree in Science from the University of California at Berkeley in 1993, and his law degree from the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. A licensed and practicing lawyer since 1996, Kulkarni has specialized in various aspects of corporate law, such as commercial, intellectual property, and securities legislation. He has also done work with patent and labor laws.

Manish Shah — US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

Manish S. Shah was nominated by Obama in September to the post of United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

A native of Connecticut, Shah graduated from Stanford University with honors and distinctions, and earned his law degree from the University of Chicago Law School. He worked as a litigation associate in San Francisco for some time, and then came to Illinois to clerk for Judge James B. Zagel. He joined the US Attorney’s Office in Chicago in 2001, where he has amassed a stellar reputation for convictions against violent criminals, public corruption, and other illegal activities.

Indira Talwani – US District Court in Boston

Obama nominated Indira Talwani to be a judge for the US District Court in Boston in September.

She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1982 from Harvard College, where she graduated cum laude. She then earned her Juris Doctorate (JD) from the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California at Berkeley in 1988; again, she graduated with honors, this time with the Order of the Coif, a prestigious honor society of law school graduates at UC Berkeley. Most recently, she was a partner at the law firm of Segal Roitman LLP in Boston

Business / Industry:

Shirish Pareek – US Manufacturing Council

Shirish Pareek, Founder & CEO of Hydraulex Global, was appointed to a position on the US Manufacturing Council in March.

Pareek earned a B.S. with University Honors in Mechanical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur and an MBA with specialization in Operations and Strategy from Carnegie Mellon University. Pareek founded Hydraulex Global in August 2010 with the mission of becoming the premier worldwide remanufacturer and distributor of all major makes and brands of quality hydraulic pumps, motors, valves, servo and cylinders for a vast variety of industrial, mobile off-highway, mining and oil-field equipment sectors.

Neeraj Sahai – President of the S&P Ratings Services

Neeraj Sahai, a top executive at Citigroup was appointed as the president of the Standard & Poor (S&P) Ratings Services in November. It is one of the largest and most renowned financial institutions in the world.

He earned his bachelor’s degree with honors in economics from the University of Delhi, as well as his master’s degree in economics from the Delhi School of Economics. He then earned his MBA from Clarkson University in New York, and also attended the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business for its Advanced Management Program. Currently, Sahai is the head of the Securities and Fund Services for Citigroup, as well as its Chief Fiduciary Officer. He has been in the financial sector for his entire career.

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