He was the go-to man for Larry Page and Sergey Brin. So when the Google co-founders decided it was time to step back from the nitty-gritty of running the company and take a bigger-picture view, they plumped for Sundar Pichai as the new – and only the third – CEO of the internet giant.
Pichai’s elevation comes in the wake of Google’s decision to go for a massive restructuring of the company, creating a new umbrella entity called Alphabet that will now house all its ventures including Google. Pichai, as new Google CEO, will have control over Android, search, YouTube, apps and maps.
Pichai, who joined Google in 2004, had immediately caught the eye of the top brass with his domain expertise, ability to scale products fast and excellent employee/peer management skills. His first post at Google was as a product manager working on the toolbar, an important early window into Google’s services that appeared on the top of web browsers like Internet Explorer.
He went on to launch the Chrome browser, took over the Android operating system and, barely a year later, all of Google consumer products, save for YouTube. In the process, Pichai proved himself an effective product manager who shipped on time and a peacemaker inside Google and with partners like telcos and media companies.
“Sundar has a talent for creating products that are technically excellent yet easy to use — and he loves a big bet,” Page wrote in his blog spot. “Take Chrome, for example. In 2008, people asked whether the world really needed another browser. Today Chrome has hundreds of millions of happy users.”
Page added, “It is clear to us and our board that it is time for Sundar to be CEO of Google. I feel very fortunate to have someone as talented as he is to run the slightly slimmed down Google and this frees up time for me to continue to scale our aspirations.”
Pichai, 43, born in Chennai and a graduate in metallurgical engineering from IIT Kharagpur, won a scholarship to Stanford University where he did his master’s in engineering and materials science from Stanford University. He also holds an MBA from the Wharton School of Business.
“I know Sundar will always be focused on innovation — continuing to stretch boundaries. I know he deeply cares that we can continue to make big strides on our core mission to organize the world’s information,” Page added.
The promotion announced on Monday was the latest for an Indian-born executive in technology, with Satya Nadella named CEO of Microsoft in 2014 and George Kurian appointed CEO of storage company NetApp in June. Kurian’s twin brother Thomas Kurian is president of product development at Oracle, while Shantanu Narayen is CEO of Adobe Systems.
Nasscom president R Chandrasekhar told FE that Pichai’s rise reinforced the standing and position India has in the IT world. “We are now being regarded as a leading provider of technically skilled business leaders who can harmonise management, innovation and disruptive technology across multiple cultures. This is a critical attribute in a technology driven globalised economy,” Chandrasekhar said.
Sanjoy Sen, doctoral research scholar at Aston Business School, UK, said, “The sincerity and commitment to acquire academic excellence is often a trait in the Indian DNA. When supplemented by innovative thinking catalysed by an entrepreneurial organisation, this then forms a powerful combination as in the case of Sundar Pichai, positioning him to lead Google globally.”
Pichai has been described as having a very affable personality, with a rare ability to manage complex teams.
Said Chandrashekhar, “I believe that in a globalised world the ability to understand multiple cultures and to operate freely and comfortably straddling diverse cultures and people has become a very important attribute. In India because of our enormous diversity, such acceptance and harmonisation of different cultures is very unique and it is something we do every day.”
With inputs from Bloomberg and NYT