Madurai-born Sundar Pichai graduated from IIT Kharagpur and went on to occupy the top post at Google. He led its innovation efforts with Chrome, Google Drive and Android before becoming CEO.
“Sundar Pichai is a great migrant success story and we Indians are proud of his success. We at Y-Axis have always held the Global Indian in great pride.” — Xavier Augustin, CEO of Y-Axis
For Sundar Pichai, the wonders of technology were revealed to him when the family bought their first telephone. Sundar was just 12 then, and the rotary helped him realise his talent for numerical recall. He could remember every number he dialled, but did not know at that time how useful this skill would be in the future.
Sundar was born in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, to Lakshmi and Regunathan Pichai in 1972. He spent his childhood in Chennai. His father was an electrical engineer in General Electric. Sundar grew up in a two-room apartment in Ashok Nagar. He completed class XII from Vana Vani School in Chennai and his engineering degree from IIT Kharagpur. Sundar then joined Stanford University for his MS, and later got an MBA from Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Quiet, nerdy and studious is how Sundar’s friends remember him from his days at Jawahar Vidyalaya, where he studied up to class X. He was so focused on studies that most of his associates don’t remember him participating in sports or any other extracurricular activities. A classmate recalls: “Sundar was academically bright, though he wasn’t first in class, and always kept to himself.”
Another classmate says Sundar remains the same quiet person he always was. “It’s difficult for us to imagine that he now heads Google,” she said.
Growing up, Sundar had neither a television nor his family a car. He and his brother slept in the living room. It was his father who introduced Sundar to technology by sharing stories of challenges he faced at office.
“I used to come home and talk to him about the challenges I faced at work. Even at a young age, he was curious about my work. I think it really attracted him to technology,” his father once told Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
At IIT where he studied metallurgical engineering, his teachers considered him to be the brightest in his batch. He eventually earned a scholarship to enter Stanford. His father then applied for a loan to buy his air ticket which amounted to more than his annual salary. The loan, however, didn’t come through, and Regunathan withdrew the required amount from his family’s savings.
To the disappointment of his parents, Sundar dropped out of Stanford to work as an engineer and product manager at Applied Materials, a semiconductor maker in Silicon Valley. He, however, got an MBA from Wharton in 2002 and did a stint at McKinsey as a consultant.
He is married to Anjali, a chemical engineer, who was with him at IIT Kharagpur. They have two children.
Sundar joined Google in 2004, where he led the innovation efforts of Google’s products, including Chrome and Chrome OS. He was also largely responsible for Google Drive. He went on to oversee the development of different apps such as Gmail and Google Maps.
In early 2013, Sundar added Android to the list of Google products he oversaw. He was named the Google CEO on August 10, 2015.
Sundar was also part of a team that worked on Google’s search toolbar. He later proposed that Google create its own browser, but this was objected to by the then CEO, Eric Schmidt. Today, Google Chrome holds 32% of the browser market on phones and desktop PC. Another product under Sundar’s watch was Android, the popular mobile operating system. In 2012 Google announced a version of Pichai’s Chrome browser for Android, which would replace the mobile browser Andy Rubin had developed within his own group. Rubin founded Android in 2003 and had sold it to Google in 2005. The world now knows him as the brain behind Android One.
Lawrence ‘Larry’ Page, the co-founder of Google, and CEO of Alphabet Inc, Google’s parent company, had this to say about Pichai. “Sundar has a talent for creating products that are technically excellent yet easy to use. Take Chrome, for example. In 2008, people asked whether the world really needed another browser. Today Chrome has hundreds of millions of users. So while Andy’s a really hard act to follow, I know Sundar will do a tremendous job doubling down on Android as we work to push the ecosystem forward.”
Caesar Sengupta, his former colleague, was quoted in Bloomberg BusinessWeek as saying in June 2014: “I would challenge you to find anyone at Google who doesn’t like Sundar or who thinks Sundar is a jerk.”