AIB Featured Business Leader – Sundar Pichai
With a net worth of more than $650 million, including billions in shares of Google’s holding company Alphabet, Sundar Pichai is kind of a big deal. Prior to being named CEO of Google, he was dubbed the most powerful man in mobile and is now considered one of the most powerful CEOs in the world. His recent receipt of $199 million in shares is reported to be the highest pay package that Google has ever given to an executive. When Pichai first joined the tech giant in 2004, he was like most new Google staff – smart, capable, driven and from a humble background. But over the years, Pichai has risen through the ranks exponentially, thanks to his superior intelligence, ability to lead and friendly demeanour.
Born in 1972, Pichai grew up in a middle-class family in Chennai, India. As a child, he had a knack for remembering numbers, recalling every phone number ever dialled on his family’s phone. With a keen interest in computers, Pichai decided to pursue a Bachelor in Metallurgical Engineering after his schooling. It was his success during his undergraduate years in India that won him a scholarship to Stanford University in America to study a Masters in Material Sciences and Engineering.
Reminiscing on the big break, Pichai told Business Insider of the sacrifices his family made to cover the additional expenses (such as travel to America) required to attend Stanford. When a loan did not come through in time, Pichai’s father withdrew $1,000 from the family’s savings – more than his annual salary at the time – and sent his son on his way. “They [his parents] sacrificed a lot of their life and used a lot of their disposable income to make sure their children were educated,” Pichai explained. With success at Stanford, Pichai went on to complete his MBA at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was named a Siebel Scholar and a Palmer Scholar.
After college, Pichai landed his first roles in engineering and product management at Applied Materials, followed by management consulting at McKinsey & Company. After a couple of years, he got his big break at Google, where he commenced as product manager – a role that saw him oversee the search bar in the right corner of web browsers. It was in this role that Pichai began differentiating himself from the pack – in an increasingly competitive market, Pichai convinced his managers to join the browser market, with Google Chrome. This suggestion is one of Pichai’s biggest early achievements and has since become the most popular browser on the internet. After the launch of Chrome, Pichai oversaw the development of key apps including Gmail, Google Docs and Google Maps.
In 2013, then-CEO of Google Larry Page put Pichai in charge of Android. In a memo announcing his promotion, Page wrote, “Sundar has a tremendous ability to see what’s ahead and mobilise teams around the super important stuff.” He also described Pichai as having deep technical expertise, a great eye for product and an entrepreneurial flair, making him a great leader. When Google underwent a major corporate restructure in 2015, Alphabet Inc was launched as its parent company, with Page resuming the role as its CEO. Pichai was then promoted from Head of Products and Engineering to Google’s CEO – the biggest company under Alphabet.
Over the past three years in the role as CEO, Pichai has had the important job of ensuring the conglomerate’s key source of revenue stays strong. His colleagues consider him a loyal and diplomatic leader, who has a great ability to understand the perspectives of others. Philipp Schindler, Google’s Chief Business Officer, says Pinchai is as smart and thoughtful as executives come. According to Schindler, “He [Pichai] has this ability to change perspective and look through other people’s eyes” – a talent that is not often found in the tech world.
Despite numerous poaching attempts from big names such as Twitter, Pichai has remained loyal to Google. As CEO, he now serves as Google’s public face, including as master of ceremonies for its annual development conference. He is well liked and considered a strong communicator who makes sure everyone on his team understands the mission.
This article was written by Laura Hutton on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources have been used to prepare this article: Business Insider, Bloomberg, The Famous People, Fast Company, Forbes