Pichai had already become a public face of the company (file photo: AP)
Sundar Pichai’s elevation as CEO of Google is being seen as a logical extension of his rapid ascent at the search giant: a protégé of current CEO Larry Page who had been groomed for the job with increasing responsibilities in recent years.
Raised in Chennai, Pichai attended the Indian Institute of Technology at Kharagpur. He then joined Stanford University for a graduate engineering degree, before leaving to take an engineering job in the semiconductor industry and later pursuing an M.B.A. at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. He finally joined Google in 2004 to manage the Google Toolbar product.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Pichai showed a flair at Google for championing challenging but strategically important projects, such as the Chrome browser, which today has 45 percent market share globally.
His team later developed the Chrome operating system, which powers a line of cheap laptops that have proved popular in schools.
“He has this amazing, almost 12-year track record of being this guy that always launched things that people wanted,” said Wesley Chan, who handed over the Google Toolbar to Pichai in 2004.
Unlike other senior tech executives, Pichai is reportedly a private man, not famous for racing sports cars or parachuting into the Burning Man festival.
“Humble,” former Google colleague Keval Desai described Pichai to the WSJ. “He’s very smart, very opinionated and very low key.”
Nevertheless, Pichai has become a public face of the company, acting as master of ceremonies for Google’s annual developer conference for the past two years.
According to the Financial Times, the 43-year-old's path to the top job was also helped by a series of high-level departures, including the resignation of Nikesh Arora, the company’s top business executive, who left to become number two at Japanese internet investment company SoftBank. Though highly ambitious, Arora was not an engineer - that was seen as a disadvantage in becoming Google CEO.
“Sundar has a tremendous ability to see what’s ahead and mobilize teams around the super important stuff,” Page wrote in an October 2014 memo announcing Pichai’s promotion to head of most Google product areas.
However, according to WSJ, some of Pichai’s recent initiatives have stumbled. His push to expand the Android operating system into a range of new devices including smartwatches, smart TVs and in-dash car computers has yet to gain traction with consumers. An attempt to spread low-end Android smartphones in emerging markets has also not quite taken off.
Pichai is the latest in a growing list of Indian-born executives to reach the top ranks of tech companies in the U.S., that includes Microsoft Corp. CEO Satya Nadella, SanDisk Corp. CEO Sanjay Mehrotra and Adobe Systems Inc. CEO Shantanu Narayen.