This Google search had only one answer: Sundar Pichai
WASHINGTON: In 2004, Sundar Pichai was trying to persuade one of his colleagues at management consultancy McKinsey not to leave the firm to join Google. The conversation ended when Pichai realised that it made sense for himself to join Google as well.
Eleven years later, Pichai’s gamble has paid off, and how. The India-born Pichai was named CEO of Google on Monday by the company’s founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin after they created an expansive mother corporation called Alphabet to take care of a growing portfolio.
Pichai, 43, a Chennai native who went to IIT Kharagpur and later to Stanford and Wharton, will helm a slimmed down Google that Larry Page said will be stripped of companies ”that are pretty far afield of our main Internet products.” Page will be CEO of Alphabet.
The new mother company will include, besides Google, units such as Calico (which focuses on longevity), X lab (which incubates new efforts like Wing, Google’s drone delivery effort) and units dealing with life sciences (such as the one working on smart contact lens that detects blood sugar level). Google’s investment arms, Ventures and Capital, will also be part of Alphabet.
A straight elevation for Pichai would have meant that two of the world’s five largest companies by market cap would be headed by executives of Indian-origin — Pichai at Google which is ranked 4th, and Microsoft, which is ranked 5th, helmed by Satya Nadella.
But it won’t be so straightforward. Page explained that Alphabet Inc will replace Google Inc as the publicly-traded entity and all shares of Google will automatically convert into the same number of shares of Alphabet, with all of the same rights. Google will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Alphabet, which Page will head.
The company’s two classes of shares will continue to trade on Nasdaq as GOOGL and GOOG.
Still, the elevation is a milestone for Indian-origin CEOs, of whom there are at least half dozen in Fortune 500 companies, including Indra Nooyi at Pepsi (43), Ajit Banga at Mastercard (326), and Sanjay Mehrotra at SanDisk (422). There is a good chance that the third ranked Berkshire Hathaway too could be headed by a PIO with Ajit Jain strongly tipped to succeed Warren Buffett. Apple and Exxon Mobil are the world’s number 1 and number 2 ranked companies respectively.
“We’ve long believed that over time companies tend to get comfortable doing the same thing, just making incremental changes. But in the technology industry, where revolutionary ideas drive the next big growth areas, you need to be a bit uncomfortable to stay relevant,” Page said in a blog explaining the rationale for the restructuring, adding that the ”new structure will allow us to keep tremendous focus on the extraordinary opportunities we have inside of Google.”
Still, Google will remain the biggest piece of Alphabet. Explaining Pichai’s elevation, Page said he (Pichai) has really stepped up since October of last year, when he took on product and engineering responsibility for Google’s Internet businesses.
“Sergey (Brin) 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. 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,” he wrote.
He said he has 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.”
It is a cause for celebration that so many Indians have made it to the very top of some of the world’s most valuable companies. At the same time, however, it should make us pause and ask an obvious question – why is it that they make their mark in the US but not in the land of their birth? Clearly, the conditions here are not ripe for the best entrepreneurial and managerial minds to achieve their full potential. This is where governments need to play the vital role of creating the enabling environment in which they can thrive and create value for themselves and millions of others. Successive governments have promised much on this front, but sadly delivered at best a fraction of the promise.