Sundar Pichai took over Google aged 47. Here’s his advice to anyone with similar ambitions.

Sundar Pichai
Google CEO Sundar Pichai urges aspiring leaders to follow their heart. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  • Google’s CEO said aspiring CEOs should ‘figure out what their heart is excited by.’
  • He was speaking in an in-depth interview with BBC journalist Amol Rajan.
  • Pichai also revealed he speaks 3 languages and currently drives a Tesla.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Google parent Alphabet, has offered some advice for people who want to run a successful company: Find something that excites you.

In an hour-long interview with the BBC’s media editor Amol Rajan, Pichai talks about the potential of quantum computing, the dangers of AI, and whether Alphabet, with a market capitalization of $1.6 trillion, is too big.

He also recalls the “simplicity” of his middle-class childhood growing up in Madurai, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and his rise up the career ladder to become CEO of Alphabet in 2019, aged 47.

Pichai earned $281 million in compensation last year. When asked what his advice would be to someone from humble beginnings who wants to run a great company, Pichai said:

“I’ve always felt that – more than what your mind says – you need to figure out what your heart is excited by. It’s a journey and you will know it when you find it,” said Pichai.

“If you find that, things tend to work out,” he added.

Pichai said that he had wanted to work in Silicon Valley since he was a teenager and that his father took out a loan, worth a year’s salary, in order for Pichai to afford his flight and study at Stanford.

When asked how to land a job at Google, he gave some insight into the interview process when he applied for his first role in 2004. Pichai said: “You keep interviewing. I was interviewing on April Fool’s day and Google had just announced Gmail – which I thought was a joke.

“People kept asking me what I think of Gmail, which was invite-only at the time. It was only the fourth or fifth interviewer who asked ‘Have you seen Gmail?’ and I said no. He showed me on his computer.

“Then the next interview somebody asked me, I was able to answer it for the first time.”

He speaks to Mark Zuckerberg ‘as and when needed’

Pichai also offered some insight into his own personal work habits as CEO of one of the world’s biggest companies.

He wakes up between 6.30-7 am and tries to exercise three or four times a week. He doesn’t eat meat, and drinks tea in the mornings and coffee in the afternoons. He speaks three languages – English, Hindi and Tamil – and currently drives a Tesla.

The Wall Street Journal has been a long-term reading habit, although “90% of his consumption” is now online, from publications around the world.

When asked how often he speaks to Facebook chief and rival Mark Zuckerberg, he replied “as and when needed.”