Sundar Pichai Berlin Office

Summary List Placement

When Larry Page and Sergey Brin stepped away from their day-to-day duties at Alphabet last year, an informal agreement with CEO Sundar Pichai was made: the two billionaire cofounders would make themselves available whenever Pichai called, but they would not initiate contact.

It was an important acknowledgement that Pichai, the understated, 48-year-old engineer who rose through the ranks, was now the sole decision maker at the helm of an internet powerhouse that includes Google, YouTube and Android. 

The founders’ arrangement also signaled that the grueling task of steering the company through  some of the biggest crises in its history was now Pichai’s problem.

In October, the US Department of Justice smacked Google with an antitrust lawsuit that strikes at the heart of its most lucrative business: search. The legal fight, which carries the risk of a potential breakup of Google, is unlikely to fade away once Joe Biden becomes President. Nor are the employee uprisings within Google over hot-button issues like doing business with China, the public backlash Google faces over misinformation, or the disruption caused by COVID-19. 

Though he has been relatively deserted by Google’s founders during the company’s most challenging period, close colleagues describe Pichai as “unflappable” and “even-keeled.” Few have ever seen him betray any anger or impetuosity, even in heated situations. He is almost universally well liked by employees and executives, and known for his tact and diplomacy.  

Those qualities have earned Pichai the trust of Alphabet’s founders and the admiration of Wall Street. But if Pichai has risen to the top as the quintessential “steady hand” to keep the Google money machine running smoothly, the pressing question now for many employees and investors is whether a steady hand is enough to get Google through its current challenges.

Privately, some insiders worry Pichai’s leadership has so far been one of stewardship, without the bold, blue-sky thinking of the cofounders. His extreme diplomacy keeps the waters calm, but has at times frustrated colleagues hoping for more forceful leadership. 

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Others however, point to efforts in AI and the cloud as evidence of a transformational strategy underway. And with the company under assault from politicians, regulators and competitors, many view Pichai’s calm confidence as an underappreciated asset.

Business Insider spoke to a dozen current and former employees who have worked with Pichai to see how the CEO is approaching the growing list of challenges roughly one year into the job, and to gauge how people inside the company assess his performance.

“It’s a very different problem set for a leader at Google today,” said Caesar Sengupta, a Google VP who  leads Google’s work in payments as part of its Next Billion Users program. 

Pichai himself declined a request from Business Insider for an interview, but put forward two executives who have worked alongside him, including Sengupta, a Google VP and longtime friend of Pichai’s.

Bringing in a “sense of humble normality”

The first thing you hear from Googlers who have worked at the company for a long time is how different the atmosphere is under Pichai.

Only two …read more

Source:: Business Insider


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