Ascend Pinnacle
Hewlett Packard Enterprise chief executive Meg Whitman and former Rohm and Haas chairman Rajiv Gupta at last week’s inaugural Ascend Pinnacle awards ceremony.

PALO ALTO, Calif. (Diya TV) — Ascend Pan-Asian, a leadership group comprised of 20,000 members and 28 student chapters throughout the U.S. and Canada, hosted the organization’s inaugural awards dinner on Friday, bringing together the South Asian community’s best and brightest from the technology, manufacturing and industrial sectors.

Since the organization’s founding in 2005, Ascend has sought to enhance the  Asian presence in North America’s leadership and business communities.

S.K. Gupta, one of Ascend’s co-founders and the group’s managing director, said the organization’s presence is important in positioning South Asians at the top of Silicon Valley’s management. A point that is only further amplified when you consider the contributions the community has made to the valley’s growth and development.

“Even those (Silicon Valley companies) powered by them (Indian Americans), when it goes public, we seem to not be at the top of the organizations. Now we want respect, and you get respect by sitting on the boards of Fortune 500 companies.”

S.K. graduated from the University of Michigan with a BSE degree in naval architecture and marine engineering, he promptly began working for Lockheed Martin in 1982. There, he held assignments in engineering, business operations, business development, operations and program management on commercial, military and classified programs, including as the test director of the stealth ship Sea Shadow from 1988-1995.

He also served as the vice president of operations for Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company from 2001 until 2011.

It’s not just about equal representation, Gupta said the positioning of more Asian and Indian American on Fortune 500 company boards is based off merit.

“What we’re saying is that there are people of merit, who are Asian American, who just because they look different or talk different, should still be recognized.”

And that’s what Ascend is about, building a pipeline of visible, qualified Asian American executives, ripe for the picking of company boards.

“(Ascend) will continue to build and fill the pipeline so people can’t say that we don’t have qualified candidates. The long-term goal is that we get to a point where we won’t need an Asian American board directors network because they’ll already be a part of the system.”

Raj Gupta, the former chief executive officer and president of Rohm and Haas, attended the event and was presented with an award for his accomplishments.

From India, Gupta graduated in 1967 with a degree in mechanical engineering from IIT, Bombay, eventually earning his master’s from Cornell University and an MBA from Drexel. He joined Rohm and Haas in 1971, working his way from the ground floor to the board of directors, ultimately being elected chairman in 1999. He left Rohm & Haas after its $15.3 billion acquisition in 2009.

He currently serves as the chairman of Delphi Automotive, in addition to his standing on a number of public and private boards. He spoke to Diya TV about the honor of being Ascend’s first-ever honoree at an event.

“When S.K. called me and said ‘Raj, we want you to be the honoree,’ I was blown away,” he said. “The fact that this recognition is coming from the Asian American business community personally means a great deal to me. I am overwhelmed.”

Raj said this drive by Asian Americans to become more visible is no different than any other minority or gender push to close the gap in company management, it’s about finding a voice.

“I’ve been on 10 public boards and five private boards and I’ve never heard one chairman ask the question, ‘should we aspire to get an Asian board member?’. For me, it is important to raise the profile.”