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Google’s New CEO: Sundar Pichai

Sundar Pichai’s appointment as CEO of a slimmed down Google reflects his strong track record.

Sundar Pichai to take over as CEO at slimmed down Google

Following a restructuring at Google, Larry Page is now CEO of a newly formed holding company, Alphabet, an umbrella for a collection of companies of which Google is the largest. Sundar Pichai, former Google Product Chief, has taken over the position of CEO at the now slimmed down Google, with responsibility for search, ads, maps, Google+, commerce, apps, and Android. Page at Alphabet will oversee Google’s more visionary projects at Google X ─ Calico, Nest, and Fiber ─, plus Google Ventures and Google Capital.

In a blog post announcing the news, Page wrote: “Sundar has been saying the things I would have said (and sometimes better!) for quite some time now”. “Sundar has a tremendous ability to see what’s ahead and mobilize teams around the super important stuff.” “He has really stepped up since October of last year, when he took on product and engineering responsibility for our internet businesses. Sergey and I have been super excited about his progress and dedication to the company.”

But while Larry Page is obviously impressed, many may still be unfamiliar with this 43-year-old Indian.

Building Google’s financial success with Chrome and Toolbar

Born in Chennai, Pichai excelled academically. He studied metallurgical engineering at the increasingly renowned Indian Institute of Technology, before winning a scholarship to study a Masters in Material Sciences and Engineering at Stanford, (a nice anecdote: the $1,000 plane ticket to America cost more than his father’s annual salary). He then took an MBA at Wharton, before working at Silicon Valley based Applied Materials and in management consulting at CEO-creator McKinsey.

He joined Google in 2004 as a project manager assigned to Toolbar. And while perhaps not particularly glamorous, in giving users of Internet Explorer and Firefox (the dominant browsers at the time) easy access to Google search, Toolbar significantly increased the number of user searches. It also led Google to realise it needed its own search browser.

It was Pichai who won the support of the founders to develop this new browser, and in 2008 he was appointed VP of product development assigned to Chrome. Chrome proved to be fast, simple to use, and popular ─ it now claims a 45% browser market share globally ahead of Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari. And it also ensured that Web users searched with Google’s own search engine, opening up hugely profitable advertising. The browser was soon followed by another Pichai project, Chrome OS ─ the web-based Chrome operating system for netbooks and desktop computers ─, in 2009.

Promoted to Product Chief

By 2012, having also worked on Google Drive, Pichai was the Senior VP of Chrome and Apps, developing, for example, the Gmail and Maps aps. A year later he was put in charge of Android, the smartphone operating system, which he has since pushed out across Google’s other products. And his natural promotion to Product Chief followed in October 2014, making him second-in-command to Page, running the day-to-day operations of all Google’s major products ─ maps, Google+, research, search, and advertising. Pichai also helped with the 2014, $3.2 billion acquisition of Nest, with a vision to create connected objects fitted with the Android OS.

Wesley Chan, who passed Toolbar to Pichai in 2004 comments: “He has this amazing, almost 12-year track record of being this guy that always launched things that people wanted”.

Everyone wants to work with low-key Sundar Pichai

And while he has driven Google’s key products over a decade, proving his technical and trend-spotting worth, Pichai has also developed a reputation as the kind of person everyone wants to work with.

Words one often hears associated with Pichai include humble, hardworking, soft-spoken, smart, tactful, and low-key. People talk of his focus on quality of work and results over standing out, they discuss his ability to recruit, mentor, and retain a great team, and laud his capacity to avoid making enemies, diffuse tension, and mediate. This reputation means he also attracts the best talent to his teams.

Monetising Google’s next billion

Looking forwards, Pichai has laid out a vision that looks to monetise the millions of people around the world who already use Android, unify Google’s core products, and target the next billion potential Google users no matter where they are in the world (with e.g. Project Loon), seeking to impact users lives in meaningful and useful everyday ways.

He will also have to contend with the rising dominance of aps (which are typically Google-ad free) in an increasingly mobile environment, take on Facebook’s growing ad dominance (based on its user-knowledge and powers of precision targeting), and face charges by European regulators.

Much has been made of the irony that this now tech-CEO’s family didn’t own a telephone until he was 12 years old, or own a television or a car throughout his childhood (the family instead travelled together on a blue Lambretta scooter), but perhaps that is exactly why he will be able to recognise and develop the next piece of tech to revolutionise our lives.

 

 



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