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The man from Chennai who has become de facto No.2 at Google

26 October, 2014

Google, which has virtually defined and continues to shape the fluid internet age of our times, has been amid a management transformation. And India or people of Indian origin certainly have been bang in the middle of it. Indeed, as recent as early this year, three of the seven business leaders besides the chief business officer of the firm, Nikesh Arora, shared an Indian lineage.

Although Arora quit recently to join SoftBank, co-founder and CEO Larry Page has ensured Indian grey matter continues to lead the firm’s core, if not the business, its heart or put simply its products.

Google named Sundar Pichai as the new head of all products barring YouTube, a fresh post. Till now, separate product heads used to report to Page directly. Just how a quiet, unassuming and simple man like Pichai has become the de facto second most powerful person in the world’s largest internet company is a story of hard work and super achievements.

A top Google India executive, who spoke to VCCircle requesting anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media, put it in simple words: “Pichai is truly world class.”

In the new portfolio, Pichai will have six executives reporting to him and he will personally monitor product platforms which include research, search, maps, Google+, commerce, ad-products, infrastructure along with his existing star portfolio of Android, Chrome and Google Apps.

It is public knowledge that 12 months ago Microsoft was courting the man, and a couple of years ago Twitter tried to get him on board. But the senior management in Google reportedly, in desperation, retained Pichai for a $50 million annual salary package.

On the one hand, he has a solid data (more on that later) to back up his latest elevation to what is akin to being a COO without the responsibility of line functions of legal affairs and finance. He also comes across as a person who commands respect among his employees not least because he believes in the capabilities of the team under him.

Google’s executives also say that he is an ardent supporter of giving women their due in becoming technocrats. In Google’s Nigeria office, for instance, he has created a 35-member women developer team.

Small beginnings to big achievements

Born to a middle class ‘Brahmin’ family in 1972, he had to work his way up to becoming the man he is today. His father was an electrical engineer with a British firm called GEC. Although he worked in an MNC, Pichai senior had to work extremely hard to bring up his two boys.

In the late seventies, he had to wait three years to get himself a new scooter. But he did not compromise on providing the best education to the two kids. The boys were educated at Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan, which is a well known school in Chennai. 

Sundar Pichai, also known as Pichai Sundararajan, found his way to IIT Kharagpur where he finished his undergraduate degree in engineering in 1993.

He had a special interest in metals and metallurgical sciences, which led him to finish his advanced degree, in material sciences, at Stanford University. Pichai then pursued his interest in science and worked as an engineer for a couple of years at Applied Materials, a California-based semiconductor firm.

But the business bug bit him, stirring a desire to understand large corporations. Soon he enrolled for an MBA program at the Wharton School of Business in the University of Pennsylvania with a full scholarship. His hard work paid off and he was picked up by consulting firm McKinsey.

But that wasn’t his calling, and in 2004, he joined the then six-year-old Google; the rest as we know is history.

His first project for Google was to create ‘Google toolbar’ and was later entrusted with Google Gears and Pack. As Page’s under-study, Pichai learnt from the ‘toolbar’ business about the wealth of customer data and what to make of it. It became evident that Google could now use that data to study the behaviour of individuals in using web browsers.

Between 2008 and 2013, Page ensured that Pichai’s rise was rapid. He was asked to take over Android’s founder Andy Rubin’s portfolio in 2013 to run mobile platforms, and was also entrusted with the task of winning more than a billion users worldwide on to the Android ecosystem.

Pichai humbly took the arduous task and in less than two years he has delivered to Google and Larry Page the world.

He is perhaps best known for his work on the Google Chrome OS, which took on the might of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, and the proliferation of Android apps ecosystem.

Android’s cumulative growth has been staggering under him. If one tracks the 30-day-active-users, of Android, the number has gone from 230 million a few years ago to 1 billion active users now. This is perhaps the reason why Larry Page picked Pichai as the man for the top job.

(Edited by Joby Puthuparampil Johnson)


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The man from Chennai who has become de facto No.2 at Google

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