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How one high school produced the CEOs of Microsoft, Adobe and Mastercard

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

One of the best high schools in the world is located in Begumpet, India and it's the alma mater of some of the most influential business people on earth, including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen and Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga.

In an interview with Stephen Dubner on an episode of the "Freakonomics" podcast, Nadella revealed that all three of the CEOs attended Hyderabad Public School (HPS), a private school founded in 1923 that's attended by over 2,800 students.

At first, Nadella dismissed his shared educational experience with Narayen and Banga as a coincidence. "I think it's one of those false positives that you can take too much out of, right? I think each of us have had our own unique story and unique path," he said.

But Dubner was not so quick to downplay the role that HPS or Nadella's home country had in producing some of the most powerful business executives in the world.

"I understand that you kind of downplay it and say, 'It might be a false positive,'" said Dubner. "But I think a lot of people listening around the world will want to say, 'Whatever they are doing to succeed so brilliantly, if I could perhaps mimic just parts of that within my own family.'"

Nadella conceeded, saying he does "believe that there is a certain structure to the educational system of that country that I think I definitely benefited from."

Here's how one school has managed to produce so many industry leaders.

Shantanu Narayen, CEO, Adobe
Mark Neuling | CNBC
Shantanu Narayen, CEO, Adobe

Teaching outside the classroom

While Nadella agrees that HPS was formative, he says that one of the best parts about the school is that students are able to pursue a range of interests outside of the classroom.

"I think it was formative in very different ways," says Nadella. "Shantanu [Narayen] was a debater. I was a cricketer, and we all learned different things there."

Studies show that students who have access to a wide range of extracurriculars earn better grades and better scores on standardized tests. Research conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics found that participation in extracurricular activities even improves student graduation rates.

By offering a wide range of activities including rock climbing and horseback riding, HPS is able to take advantage of these benefits and also engage a wide range of students and help turn them into well-rounded and impassioned learners.

"HPS produces generals and not foot-soldiers," said HPS principal Ramandeep Kaur Samra to The Economic Times. "We want our students to lead, whichever field they want, small or big, but in a passionate manner.

Ajay Banga, chief executive of Mastercard
MasterCard
Ajay Banga, chief executive of Mastercard

Big thinking

Nadella says that the part of his high school education that influenced him the most was how HPS encouraged him and his peers to think big.

"I think more than anything else, it gave us the freedom to think, learn, and pursue bold dreams," explains Nadella.

"HPS has a unique academic philosophy," says the school's website. "We train students to make a difference in whatever they do and leave their footprints on the sands of time."

Empowering students to think long and hard about the world around them, is not just the right thing to do, it also helps students grow successful adults. For instance, students who believe that anything is possible are more likely to find success in academics.

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine studied 240 children ages seven to 10 and found that being positive improved their ability to answer math problems, increased their memories and enhanced their problem-solving abilities.

"I was a shy, closed and introverted child during my early days of schooling," one alumni tells The Economic Times. "[HPS] infused a lot of confidence in me."

When Nadella visited his high school last year, he agreed. "Attending the HPS was the best break I had in my life," he said.

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