28.08.2015 in Entrepreneurship, Latest by shehan 0

This Month in Entrepreneurship – Sundar Pichai

In 1979, six year old Sergey Brin stepped into a foreign and unfamiliar land. His parents were fleeing anti-semitism and were looking for a safe haven after having experiencing turbulence in Russia. Little Sergey did not know that they had chosen the country which is known as the ‘Land of opportunity’.

Within a few years time, young Sergey began to blossom in this new environment. He excelled in his studies and gained entrance to the prestigious University of Stanford. Two years later he dropped out of Stanford and partnered with Larry Page, his fellow dropout, to found Google, the IT behemoth which is now the 4th largest tech company in the world.

On August 10th 2015, Brin and Page handed over the reins of Google to another immigrant, Indian born Sundar Pichai. Sundar Pichai is the latest in a growing number of top tech CEOs who share a common ancestry in Asia.

In this month’s article, we take a closer look at the life of Pichai to examine the unique characteristics which helped him to reach the pinnacle of the IT Industry. His life embodies our values at Expolanka and he is an example of a person who used the ‘Dare to Do’ philosophy to reach the top of the corporate world.

Sundar Pichai

At the age of 16 Sundar was an average teenager who lived in the vast metropolis of Chennai. His family lived in a two room apartment and Sundar and his brother slept in the living room. They did not own a car and the first family telephone was bought only when Sundar was 12. Despite these shortcomings, his father was determined to give his sons a good education.

Sundar was a natural scholar and thrived in the academic setting. After completing his undergraduate degree at the well regarded Indian Institute of Technology, he was given the opportunity to study in the USA. His father dug into his savings to produce US$ 1000, which was more than a year’s worth of his salary.

Sundar came into the USA in a similar way to Sergey Brin, apprehensive but excited. He enrolled in Stanford and earned his Master’s degree in IT. For his MBA, he chose the private Ivy League University, Wharton. In both these colleges he earned the respect and admiration from his fellow students and teachers. After graduating, he worked in engineering and product management at Applied Materials and then in management consulting at McKinsey & Company.

pichai big

He got his big break in 2004 when he was headhunted for Google. Initially, Sundar was tasked with handling the Google search toolbar in web browsers. This was the time when Microsoft’s Internet Explorer was still dominant across the world. The success of the Google toolbar helped build his reputation at the company.

Later Pichai proposed the idea that Google should build its own browser. Page and Brin were in favour of the project but then-CEO Eric Schmidt objected, he thought that the browser project would be an expensive distraction. However, Sundar’s idea prevailed and Google Chrome was born. Today, Chrome is one of the most successful Google products and has a worldwide market share of 45%.

At the end of his tenure, Eric Schmidt too was captivated by this personable young man from India. When Sundar was made the CEO, Schmidt gushed,

“Really excited about the vision and brilliance of Sundar… he’s going to be a great CEO”

Pichai also stamped his influence on a range of iconic Google products. He was the driving force behind Chrome OS, Google Drive, Gmail and Google Maps.

At board meetings, Sundar has the peculiar habit of suddenly walking out of the room. In deep thought he wanders about and then rushes back with a solution. Sundar also has an unusual gift that seemed little more than a curiosity to him when he was a child, but has served him incredibly well in adulthood: he has insane numerical recall and can remember every number he has ever dialed.

Pichai’s accomplishments aroused the interest of Google’s competitors as well. In 2011, he was considered to lead product and replace Jason Goldman at Twitter; and then he was almost lured away by Microsoft who was looking for a replacement to Steve Ballmer. Google negotiated desperately and retained Sundar by offering $50 million a year in stock.

Perhaps the best appreciation of Sundar came from Larry Page himself,

“I feel very fortunate to have someone as talented as him to run Google. Sergey and I have been super excited about Pichai’s progress and dedication to the company. Sundar will continue to stretch boundaries and will help Google to make big strides on its core mission to organize the world’s information.”

Nevertheless, Sundar has managed to be humble in spite of all these accolades. His colleagues describe him as simple, empathetic and self depreciating. Sundar is renowned for avoiding confrontation. “He has great relationships. He is just not a polarizing figure,” Minnie Ingersoll, a former Google Product Manager who worked with Pichai early in his career, told The Wall Street Journal.

Another Google employee, Vice President Caesar Sengupta says,

“I would challenge you to find anyone at Google who doesn’t like Sundar or who thinks he is a jerk”.

This is Sundar’s most redeeming and refreshing feature. He is living proof that even ‘nice guys can win’.

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