Born into a middle class Indian family in Tamil Nadu, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai will soon don another leadership mantle, when he takes over as the chief executive of the parent Alphabet company.
The development is a significant shake-up for the technological giant, coming at a time when Google faces mounting scrutiny over its size, data privacy issues and the potential impact of its technologies on society.
Pichai, whose full name is Pichai Sundararajan, first became interested in computers while he was studying metallurgical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology at Kharagpur. He later won a scholarship to Stanford, nursing dreams of one day joining the Silicon Valley.
When he went for his first interview at Google, it was on April Fool’s Day in 2004. Therefore, on being quizzed about the company’s free email service Gmail, which happened on the same day, he initially thought it was one of the company’s infamous pranks.
Later, after joining the company, Pichai went on to build Google’s search toolbar as the most important product in 2006. He convinced manufacturers to preinstall the toolbar on their hardbar, warding off potential competitors like the Bing search engine.
Thereafter, he convinced Google co-founders Larry page ad Sergey Brin to make Google build its own browser, the result of which is the Google Chrome, the most used option including by Indian users. Pichai was instrumental in the integration of Android with Google.
Pichai has remained loyal to Google despite being approached by other companies like Twitter for high-ranking roles. Employees swear by him for remaining approachable at all times, At the same time, he has played a critical role in explaining Page’s vision to teams within Google.
In late 2014, he virtually became Page’s second-in-command, when he became in charge of all the company’s product areas, including search, maps, Google+, commerce and ads and infrastructure.
Today, many of its products, including Android, Gmail, YouTube and Maps, have more customers alone than the population of any country in the world.
The success of Google and its massive size–Android and the company’s search engine control 90% share of their respective markets–has led to concern of anti-trust and data privacy.
Though he has helmed one of the world’s most successful information technology company, Pichai says : “As humans, I don’t know whether we want change that fast – I don’t think we do.”
This comment by Alphabet’s new chief to The Guardian in an interview in 2017 could well provide the dilemma as he comes to the helm of Google’s parent that is responsible for its experimental projects, ranging from Waymo’s driverless cars to Calico increasing the lifespan of humans using advanced technologies.