“Since we started Google, there has been no one who has reassured us more than he is, and no one better suited to lead Google and Alphabet. In a public email announcing the shift, the two co-founders of Google commented on their choice of new family member Sundar Pichai.
Praise is beautiful, no compound. Alphabet, Google’s parent company, announced last week that its co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, would step down as CEO and president of Alphabet, but remain on the company’s board of directors, while Google CEO Sandal D’O.K. Pichai also holds the CEO position of Alphabet.
Pichay in 2012
In 2012 and 2013, I interviewed Pichai twice at Google I/O, where I had a direct experience of face-to-face communication. He has been in the media for a decade and has interviewed a number of industry executives, but this person’s first impression is very special. He was thin and slender (perhaps vegetarian), soft-spoken, a little slow-talking, and even shy in the face of the media, and no other professional manager had the kind of deliberate energy and grandioseness.
Why do two less to retreat?
The change also means the end of a founding era. In 1998, two Stanford students, Page and Brin, co-founded Google, the Internet search engine. Over the next two decades, Google’s fortunes have expanded from a purely web search engine to almost all Internet services, now holding 88 percent of the world’s internet search, 85 percent of its mobile platform share, with annual revenues of more than $136 billion and a market capitalisation of $930 billion.
The once”Google TWO” has also become middle-aged, with a combined fortune of more than $110 billion. Now the 46-year-old decided to retire early and deliver Alphabet’s vast portfolio to 47-year-old Pichai, which includes Google, Android, Chrome, Youtube, Waymo, Fiber Loon and more.
However, Pichai’s role is just a super-big butler. Google’s ultimate voice remains firmly in the hands of Page and Brin. With super-voting B-shares, Page and Brin control up to 51 per cent of voting rights, although they own only 11 per cent of Google. This means that if both of them want to, they can go over the board to decide everything about Google.
In fact, Page and Brin were in a semi-retired state a few years ago, and the shift was in the market’s expectations. While the two are firmly in Google’s grip, they are not the perfectionist management maniacs who control all the details as Jobs did; instead, Mr Page and Mr Brin are not particularly keen on day-to-day management and are reluctant to even make a public appearance for the company.
In 2001, Page and Brin, on the advice of investors, offered former Novell chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt the job as Google’s CEO, giving him a decade of management. Although Page returned as Google’s CEO in 2011, he has rarely been in the public eye, missing Google I/O conferences several times for physical reasons. Brin’s interest in work is more about the future of Google X Labs.
In fact, Page and Brin are already semi-retired. In 2015 they restructured Google to form alphabet, the controlling parent company, while Mr Pichai took charge of the most critical of the Internet business, while the two stepped away from day-to-day management. It can be seen that the two founders were satisfied with Pichai’s four-year performance before they could rest assured that the whole of Alphabet had been entrusted to him.
For the past two years, Page has not only declined an interview with President Trump’s Internet business leaders, but also a subpoena from the U.S. House of Representatives, attended an online regulatory hearing, and allowed Mr. Pichai to be grilled for nearly four hours, sparking a backlash in U.S. politics. The House even deliberately set aside an empty chair to humiliate Page, who was supposed to be there. Today’s Google is under heavy antitrust regulatory pressure, but after the two men retire, they don’t need to be bothered to make a fool of it.
In the words of Greenstein, a Harvard Business School professor who has long studied Google, Mr Page and Mr Brin were both mindless entrepreneurial successes who even wanted to sell Google in the early days. Their character may be more than happy to be a university professor and work in a lab (rather than running a business magnate).
On Friday, after the shift, Dr. Page and Brin, a 1995 Stanford computer doctor, made a surprise visit to the Stanford campus, knocking on the doors of the college where they had studied, and talking to their fellow teachers for more than two decades. Maybe this is the life they aspire to.
Accidental takeover of Android
If Page and Brin’s shift is an unsolicited retreat, it is the pinnacle of his career for Pichai, an Indian immigrant. Starting in 2013, Mr Pichai, who has been in the early years of his career, has taken over the $900bn internet empire from google, starting with a humble executive at Google.
It’s worth noting that in 2014 and 2015, Two Indian immigrants, Satya Nadella and Pichai, took over Microsoft and Google, the world’s two biggest internet giants. Both have tripled their market capitalisations under their operations, and now together they have more than $2 trillion.
Pichai joined Google’s core executives in 2011. After his return as Google’s CEO in 2011, Page made a major change to Google’s management, which was split into seven business units, with Mr. Pichai as senior vice president of Chrome’ business. Marissa Meyer, the former beauty executive in charge of search, was sidelined in the reshuffle, setting the stage for leaving as Yahoo’s CEO the following year.
The other six heads of the department are Andy Rubin, head of Android, Susan Wojcicki, head of advertising, who later heads YouTube, and Alan Eustace, head of search operations. Vic Gundotra, head of social business, and Salar Kamangar, head of Youtube, and Jeff Huber, head of the business department.
At the time, Mr. Pichai had the highest qualifications and reputations among executives in Google’s seven business units, and the media exposure was minimal. However, the lowest-profile executive overtook several other senior or even founding seniors to become the successor to Google’s two founders. Of the other six leaders, only two remain at Google, and the others have left.
In fact, Pichai’s takeover of Android was an accident. In 2013, Rubin, known as the father of Android, was forced to leave his job over a scandal over sexual assault son-in-law. In an effort not to dent Google’s reputation, Page has crushed the scandal, ostensibly putting Mr Rubin in charge of Google’s new business, effectively giving him a decent exit and a $90m severance package.
In this way, Pichai ran Both Android and Chrome in 2013. In 2014, Pichai became head of operations for all of Google’s Internet products, taking over the core product team of search, YouTube, Chrome, Android, Maps and more. In 2015, after Page restructured Alphabet, Pichai became CEO of Google, a subsidiary, to take charge of all Internet businesses. Within three years, Pichai had become Google’s big steward.
It is clear that Mr Pichai’s performance has satisfied Mr Page and Mr Brin, at least as well as the performance and share price. Google’s revenue was just $66 billion in 2014 and $136 billion in 2018; when Mr. Pichai became Google’s CEO in 2015, it was worth $300 billion; and four years later, Alphabet had a market capitalisation of $930 billion.
As he becomes CEO of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, other new business units will also be reported to him, including Unmanned Waymo, Cutting Edge Lab Google X, Smart Home Nest, Fiber, VV, VS. Life Sciences business Calico, Balloon network business Loon and so on. In just six years, Pichai took over the entire Google web empire.
Why, among so many senior executives and founding elders, did Page and Brin choose the least-mischievous Chay to take over Google? He is not a rhetorical man, and the reason he has been promoted to the top is based on actual performance.
Microsoft Raid verifies Pichai Vision
Let’s take a brief look back at Pichai’s growth. Born in 1972 in Madurai Madurai, Tamil Nadu, southern India, Pichai is the noblest Brahmin in the Indian caste; yes, Pichai is as vegetarian as the orthodox Brahmin. But Pichai’s family was not rich enough to have a refrigerator when he was a child; his father was an electrical engineer and his mother was a stenographer.
After a degree in metallurgical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras, where he met his future wife, Pichai went to Stanford University to study mathematics and semiconductor physics. In 1997, Pichay, a 25-year-old Stanford graduate, joined the semiconductor company Applied Materials as a product manager, but found himself not liking the job, so he went to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, america’s best business school, to study for an MBA and received two major honors representing outstanding students (Siebel) Scholar and Palmer Scholar).
In 2002, Mr. Pichai, a business school graduate, joined McKinsey, a top consulting firm, to manage consulting. On April Fool’s Day 2004, the same day Google released Gmail, Pichai joined Google as a product manager. His first project was Google Toolbar (launched at the end of 2000), which provides a convenient search tool on Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.
Pichai created the Google Toolbar on Firefox. The toolbar’s success caught the attention of Google executives, but what really earned him the trust took place in 2006. Mr. Pichai reported to then-CEO Schmidt, who asked to develop a Google-specific browser, but mr. Schmidt was skeptical that Google would succeed in the area, given that Microsoft and Mozilla already had an absolute advantage in the field.
Pichai then went straight to Page and Brin to explain what an exclusive browser meant to Google. In his view, Microsoft’s intention to enter the Internet business has been very clear, Google does not have its own browser, it is easy for Microsoft through the browser settings caught off guard.
In April 2006, the two founders agreed to give Pichai resources to lead the browser team. Although Schmidt is nominally CEO, the real clap-off is the two founders. In 2005, Page and Brin bought android for $50 million and decided to build a mobile platform. Schmidt was only informed of the deal decision.
On October 18, 2006, an industry news story validated Pichai’s foresight, giving Page and Brin a look at Pichai. That day, Microsoft suddenly changed its default search engine from Google to its own Windows Live Search in its newly released IE 7 browser. Microsoft began planning to enter the Internet search business, which was then led by Nadella.
Microsoft just changed the default setting, so that the completely unsuspecting Google completely confused. Jeffrey Nelson, a former Google engineer who worked on Chrome projects from 2006 to 2008, recalls that Google called the day Doomday a doom. As a direct insider, he denied wealth magazine’s earlier report that Pichai had asked to develop Chrome after a major shake-up at Microsoft, which was actually launched in April of that year.
How big is this hitting Google? The impact is greater than Apple’s switch to Apple Maps in iOS 6. In 2006, Google had about 400 million users, 65 percent of which came from Internet Explorer. Without the default engine identity, it could cost Google nearly 300 million potential users.
Pichai’s central role is evident at this time. He was in charge of Google Toolbar and Google Desktop, which were pre-installed with OEMs, two otherwise obscure pieces of software that became the cornerstone of Google’s fight against Microsoft. Google used these software to jump out of the window and ask users to re-change the default search engine back to Google.
The end of the world became a false alarm. That’s thanks to Netscape’s previous sacrifices, and Microsoft’s inability to destroy its competitors, as it did nine years ago, through its dominance of desktop systems. Microsoft’s Windows Live Search products, on the other hand, were immature in 2006, and the experience was not comparable to Google’s, and users continued to search for Google;
Chrome becomes the king of browsers
After a horror in October 2006, Pichai’s browser project was listed as an important strategic product by Google, secured priority development resources, and recruited several key research and development talent from Firefox. In September 2008, just after Yahoo’s Jerry’s rejected Microsoft’s $46.6 billion offer, Chrome, which integrated Google Search and the family bucket service, went live and quickly gained 1 percent market share, when IE’s share was 66 percent.
In the browser market where IE and Firefox dominate, Pichai’s Chrome team has been a hit and fought a beautiful later battle. In the summer of 2010, Chrome’s market share exceeded 10 per cent for the first time, with IE’s share falling below 50 per cent and Firefox’s 34 per cent, and by the summer of 2012, Chrome’s market share had overtaken IE and Firefox for the first time, making it the world’s largest browser.
The success of Chrome has earned Pichai the trust of Page and Brin, and has built his reputation in the industry. In 2008, Pichai became Google’s vice president of product development. In 2009, the Chrome OS project was also officially launched (in 2011). He has since been responsible for the development of Gmail and map products.
In an interview with me in 2012, Pichai talked about “simplicity, speed and security” as the secret to Chrome’s success. Over the next few years, Chrome’s market share continued to grow steadily, while IE and Firefox continued to decline. Chrome’s market share is now 60%, while IE and Firefox have a market share of only 9.5% and 6%. (Data from city transfer company W3Counyter)
Rumours of a two-time departure also helped Pichai get a promotion. In 2011, Twitter tried to hire Mr. Pichai as head of product development; Mr. Page personally retained Mr. Pichai and promoted him to the senior vice president position, overseeing the entire Chrome division. After Microsoft Ballmer announced his departure at the end of 2013, media reported that the company’s board had contacted Pichai. Eventually, Nadella, Head of Microsoft’s cloud business, became Microsoft’s new CEO, while Mr. Pichai became Google’s head of Internet operations and became Google’s CEO the following year.
Of Google’s many executives, Mr Pichai is not a particularly good performer. But his brilliant performance in Chrome, his own modesty, has given Pichai the admirty of Page and Brin, who have come to the end of the internal political battle.
In addition, there is one small thing worth mentioning. Mr Pichai also rejected a multibillion-dollar share grant from Google’s board in 2017 and 2018 for two years in a row, on the grounds that he had “done enough.” In 2014, Mr. Pichai was in charge of all Internet products, where he received $250 million in stock grants; in 2015, Mr. Pichai was promoted to CEO of Google, and in 2016 he received $100 million in stock grants; and in 2016, Mr. Pichai received another $200 million in stock grants.
In 2017 and 2018, his base salary was just $1.33 million and $1.88 million. While Mr Pichai did get nearly $600m in sky-high pay in a few years, how many professional managers would refuse to pay another multi-billion dollar package? Pichai’s refusal to take the money this time may have given Page and Brin a little more trust in him.
The location of Google’s Empire’s big butler is not easy. He took over from a middle-aged Google empire that, while in a much-sitable position, faces the challenge of slowing business growth and severe antitrust regulatory pressures. Over the past few years, Pichai has clearly aged a lot and a lot of white hair.
In addition to the $2.7 billion fine in Europe that forced it to adjust its Android business model, Google faces a joint antitrust investigation in the U.S. from the federal Justice Department and 48 state regulators. The initial antitrust investigation was still aimed at the search business, but has now expanded to the Android platform. Two decades ago, Microsoft was caught in the middle of an antitrust investigation that escaped the spin-off.
How Mr Pichai will lead Google in resolving this biggest crisis may be the ultimate challenge of his career.