The meteoric rise of Google CEO Sundar Pichai, in photos

Getty ImagesGoogle CEO Sundar Pichai.

More than two years ago, Sundar Pichai took the helm at Google.

While Larry Page is still CEO of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, Pichai has the incredibly important job of making sure that the company’s core businesses and cash cow stay strong.

So who is Pichai and how did he scale the ranks to get one of the most important jobs at one of the most important companies in the world?

Here’s his story.

Jillian D’Onfro contributed to an earlier version of this article.

Pichai, whose full name is actually Pichai Sundararajan, grew up in Chennai, India. His father was as an electrical engineer and his mother a stenographer before having him and his younger brother. The family wasn’t wealthy, and the boys slept together in the living room of their two-room apartment.

Source: Bloomberg, Inc.

Early on, Pichai had a talent for remembering numbers, which his family realised when he could recall every phone number he had ever dialed on their rotary phone. He will still sometimes show off his memorization skills at meetings.

Source: Bloomberg

After becoming interested in computers — the first software program he wrote was a chess game — Pichai studied metallurgical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur. His success there won him a scholarship to Stanford.

Source: YouTube

Moving to California was a huge leap. “I always loved technology and while growing up I had dreams of Silicon Valley,” Pichai said in a recent interview. “I used to read about it, hear stories from my uncle.”

Sources: Business Insider, Bloomberg

When Pichai got to America in 1993, he couldn’t believe how expensive everything was (a backpack cost $US60!). He also missed his girlfriend, Anjali.

Steve Jennings



The two eventually got married, and now have a son, Kiran, and daughter, Kavya.

Kimberly White/Getty Images for Breakthrough Prize

Source: The Guardian

Pichai earned his MS from Stanford, and then attended the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School for his MBA. Before Google, he had stints at Applied Materials and consulting firm McKinsey & Co.

Pichai interviewed at the Googleplex on April Fools’ Day in 2004 —  the same day the company launched Gmail. Everyone, Pichai included, initially thought that the free email service was one of Google’s infamous pranks.

Getty Images

Source: Bloomberg

Pichai got his start working on Google’s search toolbar. But in 2006, Microsoft created a “Doomsday” scenario for Google by making Bing the new default search engine on Internet Explorer. Pichai helped convince computer manufacturers to preinstall the Toolbar on their hardware to mitigate the effect of this change.

The Way Back MachineThe Toolbar site when Pichai started in 2004.

Source: Quora

That Internet Explorer debacle led to another big early achievement for Pichai: convincing cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to make Google build its own browser. The result, Chrome, is now the most-used option out there.

Source: Bloomberg

As a leader, Pichai was always well-liked and more focused on results instead of standing out. That “substance over overt style” attitude attracted attention, though, and he started getting more responsibility.


Source: Business Insider

Pichai then took over the Android division in 2013.

Source: Business Insider

One of the major efforts he spearheaded was Android One, Google’s push to make low-cost smartphones for “the next 5 billion” people coming online.

Google/Android One

Pichai was also incredibly instrumental in making sure Android was better integrated with Google proper. Before he took over, it was run basically as a completely separate business.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Source: Buzzfeed

Another landmark in Pichai’s rise: He was reportedly instrumental in helping put together Google’s $US3.2 billion acquisition of Nest in 2014.


Here’s a prophetic post from 2011:


Source: Bloomberg

Pichai was also behind Chrome OS, the operating system that powers Google’s inexpensive Chromebook laptops.


Pichai has remained a loyal Googler despite being approached by Twitter for high-ranking roles a couple of times.

Source: Business Insider

We’ve been told that he would often act as Larry Page’s “interpreter” —  understanding Page’s vision and then helping to communicate it to other teams.


Source: Business Insider

That knack and his success with Chrome, Apps, and Android led to his next important promotion in late 2014, when Page put him in charge of almost all of the company’s product areas, including search, maps, Google+, commerce and ads, and infrastructure. He essentially became Page’s second in command.

Getty / Steve Jennings

Source: Business Insider

Page respects Pichai. “Sundar has a tremendous ability to see what’s ahead and mobilize teams around the super important stuff,” he wrote in a 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.”

Justin Sullivan/Getty

Source: Business Insider

When the company blew up its corporate structure almost a year later, it was no surprise that Pichai got tapped to lead Google, since he was responsible for its core products.

Although he’s private, Pichai is willing to speak out about certain causes that he believes in. Following some of Donald Trump’s comments about immigration, he wrote a public post expressing his views: “Let’s not let fear defeat our values. We must support Muslim and other minority communities in the US and around the world.”

Source: Medium

And although Pichai doesn’t use Instagram and rarely tweets, he has been a pretty active Google+ poster over the years, which gives us a little more insight into his personality.


His posts mostly highlight various Chrome rollouts, but they also reveal that he admires people like Nelson Mandela, Anthony Shadid, Dennis Ritchie, Wangari Maathai, John McCarthy, and Aaron Swartz.

We also know that he loves cricket…


…and the game “Flappy Bird.” Here he is meeting with creator Dong Nguyen.


Pichai starts his day with a cup of tea and an omelette — plus a copy of the Wall Street Journal.


Source: Business Insider

Pichai has always been well-liked as a leader at Google more focused on results than on ego. As a CEO, his popularity has soared. One Googler on Quora wrote, “He is literally worshipped inside Google. Engineers love him. Product Managers love him. Business people love him.”

Ramin Talaie/ Getty Images.

Source: Business Insider

In fact, Pichai was one of the highest-rated CEOs on Glassdoor last year — he received a 96% approval rating from respondents.

Source: Business Insider

He’s well-compensated for his work, too. In February 2016, Pichai received roughly $US183 million in company stock, which will vest over the next four years. According to Bloomberg, this is the highest pay package that Google has ever given to an executive whose equity grants have been reported in filings.


Source: Business Insider, Bloomberg

In July 2017, Pichai was named to Alphabet’s board of directors. “Sundar has been doing a great job as Google’s CEO, driving strong growth, partnerships, and tremendous product innovation. I really enjoy working with him and I’m excited that he is joining the Alphabet board,” Alphabet CEO Larry Page said at the time.

Source: Business Insider

In his home country, Pichai is seen as something of a hero. “You’ve done what everyone has dreamed of doing,” interviewer Harsha Bhogle said while Pichai did a Q&A session with students at a Delhi University.


Source: YouTube

Here he is meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.


Throughout his meteoric rise, he’s remained incredibly humble: “It is always good to work with people who make you feel insecure about yourself. That way, you will constantly keep pushing your limits.”

Justin Sullivan

Source: The Hindu

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