Sundar Pichai has been appointed chief executive of Google, after the company’s founders announced plans to restructure its operations under the Alphabet parent company
Google has announced a major restructuring, that will see the internet giant separate its core business from its ambitious research divisions, and launch a new parent company called Alphabet.
As part of the restructure, Larry Page will become chief executive of Alphabet, Sergey Brin will become president, Eric Schmidt will become executive chairman, and Sundar Pichai, who previously oversaw many of the search company’s core products, will become chief executive of Google – which will incorporate search, web advertising, Gmail, YouTube, Chrome and Android.
Mr Page said that Mr Pichai was the natural choice to lead Google, adding that he has “really stepped up” since October of last year, when he took on product and engineering responsibility for Google’s internet businesses.
“Sergey and I have been super excited about his progress and dedication to the company. And it is clear to us and our board that it is time for Sundar to be CEO of Google,” he said in a blog post.
“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. I have been spending quite a bit of time with Sundar, helping him and the company in any way I can, and I will of course continue to do that.”
Others suggested that Mr Pichai had been approached by Twitter, which islooking for a chief executive, and that he was promoted in order to keep him on board.
Mr Page said that Mr Pichai will continue to drive innovation and stretch boundaries at Google, and ensure that the company “can continue to make big strides on our core mission to organise the world’s information”.
The rise and rise of Sundar Pichai
Mr Pichai’s appointment as chief executive of Google is an endorsement of his talents as both an engineer and a manager. Since joining Google in 2004, he has risen rapidly, leading innovation efforts for Chrome and Chrome OS, overseeing the development of Gmail, Drive and Maps, and later taking on responsibility for Android.
In a recent profile by Bloomberg magazine, Mr Pichai was described as soft-spoken, self-deprecating and well-liked. “I would challenge you to find anyone at Google who doesn’t like Sundar or who thinks Sundar is a jerk,” said Caesar Sengupta, a vice president who worked with Mr Pichai for eight years.
However, Mr Pichai’s rise to the top of one of the world’s biggest companies has not been easy. Born in Chennai, India, he had a humble upbringing. His family lived in a two-room apartment, and Sundar did not have a bedroom – he slept on the living room floor with his younger brother.
Although the family did not own a car or a television, Sundar was attracted to technology from a young age, partly thanks to his father’s job as an electrical engineer for the British conglomerate General Electric Company.
“I used to come home and talk to him a lot about my work day and the challenges I faced,” Sundar’s father, Regunatha Pichai, told Bloomberg. “Even at a young age, he was curious about my work.”
The Pichai family got their first telephone when Sundar was 12 years old and, as well as cementing his interest in technology, it helped him discover a remarkable talent for remembering numbers – something that has come in handy throughout his 11 years at Google.
After studying metallurgical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur, he won a scholarship to Stanford University to study materials science and semiconductor physics. The plane ticket to America reportedly cost more than his father’s annual salary.
Mr Pichai planned to get a PhD at Stanford and pursue an academic career, but he dropped out to work as an engineer and product manager at Silicon Valley chip maker Applied Materials. After getting an MBA from the Wharton School of Business in 2002 and doing a stint as a consultant at McKinsey, Mr Pichai joined Google in 2004.
He started off working on Google’s search toolbar for Internet Explorer and Firefox, but quickly suggested that Google should build its own browser. Despite some resistance from then-CEO Eric Schmidt, he won the support of the company’s co-founders, and Google ended up launching Chrome in 2008. Today, Chrome is the most used browser across desktop and mobile, representing 25pc of the market.
Mr Pichai went on to help develop the Chrome operating system for laptops, which stores data in the cloud rather than locally on the device. Chrome OS runs on Google’s Chromebooks, which are particularly popular with the education sector. Analysts at Gartner recently predicted that sales of Chromebooks will increase by 27pc in 2015.
After supervising the development of some of Google core applications like Gmail, Google Drive and Google Maps, Mr Pichai was also given oversight of Android in 2013, taking over from Android founder Andy Rubin. He has since led the expansion of Android from a mobile-only operating system to a platform for smartwatches, TVs, cars and even payments.
Mr Pichai’s promotion to product chief in October 2014 made him Mr Page’s second-in-command, with oversight of day-to-day operations for all of Google’s major products including Maps, Search and advertising, as well as new products like Google Photos and Google Now. His new title of chief executive essentially consolidates this role.
The appointment has been hailed not only as a personal achievement, but as a reflection India’s growing importance in the global technology industry, following the appointment of Satya Nadella as chief executive of Microsoft last year.