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Becoming the head of any company is an achievement. Becoming the CEO of Alphabet gets you into the history books.Last year, in December 2019, Sundar Pichai became the CEO of both Google and Alphabet, taking over from co-founder Larry Page and was awarded $281 million in compensation becoming one of the world’s highest-paid executives.Pichai has been the chief executive of the search engine business since 2015, when Google restructured into Alphabet. He has been with the company since 2004.

Pichai has come a long way from modest beginnings in Chennai (India).With no doubts, his tenure as CEO has been a tremendous success. Alphabet took in $161.8 billion in revenue in 2019—nearly double the $74.9 billion it recorded in 2015, the year Pichai became CEO.

Given the impressive track record, it’s worth asking: who is Sundar Pichai, and how did he make it to the top of Google in so short a time?

Modest Beginnings

Sundar Pichai was born in Chennai, India, in 1972. His father worked as an electrical engineer for the UK-based General Electric Company and  his mother was a stenographer.His family lived in a modest two-room apartment.He slept on the living room floor, along with his younger brother. 

Pichai was both a leader and standout student from an early age. After becoming interested in computers — the first software program he wrote was a chess game.

He was the captain of his cricket team and excelled academically as a student of metallurgical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur. After graduating, Pichai got a scholarship to study at Stanford University in 1993.

Pichai then earned a master’s in material sciences and engineering at Stanford. From there he earned an MBA from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. He began his career as a product manager at Applied Materials and later became a management consultant at McKinsey & Co.

The Rise of a Talent 

Google hired Pichai in 2004 to lead development of Google Toolbar and then Google Chrome. In 2013, Pichai became the leader of the Android operating system, which powers smartphones worldwide. In 2014, he was appointed to lead product and engineering for all of Google’s platforms, which included search as well as applications such as maps, Android and Gmail.

In each position, Pichai was able to grow the product, reach new users and maintain a focus on quality and revenue.Pichai has remained a loyal Googler despite reportedly being approached by Twitter for high-ranking roles a couple of times. In 2014, industry gossip placed Pichai in a short list to become the CEO of Microsoft, a position that finally went to Satya Nadella, who is also from India.  

Pichai was announced as the CEO of Google in 2015, when the company was reorganized into Alphabet. He became the CEO of Alphabet in December 2019.Page respects Pichai.

“Sundar has a tremendous ability to see what’s ahead and mobilize teams around the super important stuff,” he wrote in his memo announcing Pichai’s promotion. “We very much see eye-to-eye when it comes to product, which makes him the perfect fit for this role.”

Pichai was always a leader at Google as he rose through the ranks, and as CEO, his popularity soared.

One Googler on Quora wrote, “He is literally worshipped inside Google. Engineers love him. Product Managers love him. Business people love him.”

A New Role as Google CEO

As a leader, Pichai was always well-liked and more focused on results instead of standing out. Before ascension as CEO, Pichai had been a trusted member of the leadership team. His technical skills and vision put him at the head of the line for promotions. 

He’s well-compensated for his work. Google said in an April regulatory filing that Pichai was awarded $281 million in total compensation in 2019, mostly in stock awards. Pichai’s annual salary is $650,000, though Google says it will rise to $2 million in 2020.


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