In 2019, Sundar Pichai took home compensation of $281 million or a little over a quarter billion dollars. There are of course founder CEOs and hedge fund managers that blow that number out of the water. The one key difference between these top earners and Sundar, however, is that Sundar didn’t find his own company or hedge fund. Sundar didn’t join Google until 2004 and when he did join, he was simply a manager. Moreover, Sundar didn’t have any high-level connections or very much money when he came to the US. Sundar quite literally started at the very bottom and worked his way up the corporate ladder to the very top. So, here’s how Sundar Pichai became the#1 paid employee in the world starting with nothing.
Road to Google
Taking a look back, Sundar was born on June 10, 1972, in Chennai India. His father was an electrical engineer and his mother was a stenographer. It doesn’t seem like the family had any financial problems per se, but they weren’t rich by any means. The family lived in a small two-room apartment and Sundar and his brother would sleep in the living room. Though Sundar’s background wasn’t particularly helpful for him, his intellect would prove extremely helpful. From a very young age, Sundar was extremely bright with one of his most notable characteristics being his insane memory. Sundar was able to recall every single number he ever dialed on their home rotary phone. Considering this, it’s not too surprising that Sundar would end up attending the Indian Institute of Technology or IIT where he studied metallurgical engineering. After IIT, Sundar scored a spot at Stanford where he got a master’s in engineering and material science. He didn’t stop right there either.
Sundar turned around and tried to get a Ph.D. from Stanford, but he soon decided that gaining work experience was probably the better bet. So, he dropped out of his doctoral program and got a job at Applied Materials as an engineer/product manager in the late 1990s. He didn’t stick around at Applied Materials for too long though as he quickly shifted over to McKinsey & Company. Around the same time, Sundar decided that getting an MBA would further propel his career. So, he would end up attending the Wharton School of Business and securing an MBA. A few years later in 2004, Sundar would attend an interview at Google on April Fools Day. Ironically, before applying to Google himself, Sundar had convinced one of his friends to not apply to Google. This was during the height of the dot-com crash where over 90% of internet companies went bankrupt. So, Sundar’s warnings made sense, yet ironically ended up applying himself. His interview took place on the day that Google launched Gmail, and given that it was April Fool’s Day, like many, Sundar thought that Gmail was just a joke.
Google Search Toolbar
Anyway, Sundar of course got the job, and he started working as a product manager overlooking Google’s search toolbar development. A lot of us don’t even remember that Google used to have such a toolbar. But, at the time, this was a major development. You see, just two years later in 2006, Microsoft made Bing the default search engine on Internet Explorer. However, since many Google users had the Google search toolbar installed, Google was able to heavily reduce the effects of Microsoft’sdecision. So, by chance, Sundar found himself working on one of the most important developments for Google at the time. Aside from being able to play a key role in the young company, this experience made Sundar realize how dependent Google was on Microsoft. If Microsoft had made this decision a few years ago, Google may not have become so popular in the first place.
So, to minimize risk moving forward, Sundar would suggest creating a browser. Most of the managers and executives above him didn’t like this idea. Sure, having a popular browser would give Google a major upper hand, but it seemed like it was simply way too late to enter the browser game. Internet Explorer had come out over a decade ago and even Safari and Firefox had been out for multiple years. So, much of Google’s management didna think developing a browser was a viable idea. Two guys, however, were willing to enforce the idea and this was of course Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Larry and Sergey knew that Google’s success has never come from being first. They were 8 years late to search engines and they were 33 years late to the email scene. When they bought YouTube, they didn’t even buy the earliest video-sharing platform. The first video-sharing platform called shareyourworld.com came out in 1997 while YouTube wasn’t even launched till 2005. So, Google was never the first one on the scene. Yet, given Google’s early success, it was clear to Larry and Sergey that being first didn’t necessarily determine the success of a product or service.
So, Larry and Sergey encouraged Sundar to give the browser a shot. Sundar and his team would develop Google Chrome over the next few years with a few key targets. The first target was creating an unbeatable UI. Google had already built up a name for being the cool kid on the block. They offered more storage, more services, and a better user experience than any of their competitors. So, Chrome had to live up to these customer expectations. Fortunately for Sundar, this wasn’t too difficult as Internet Explorer was pretty clunky at the time. The UI wasn’t Sundar’s only focus though. He knew that to attain long-term sustained success, Chrome had to be a developer favorite. Instead of trying to guess what web developers liked, Sundar decided to let developers show him what they liked through Chromium. Chromium is an open-source web browser that was launched in September 2008. This allowed Sundar’s team to easily implement input from developers from around the world, and as you would guess, this made Google Chrome extremely stable and fast. Combining this with a far superior UI, and switching to Chrome was a no-brainer for most people. Despite the successful launch of Chrome, Sundarnever limited himself to just one project.
In the background, he was also laying the foundation for other fundamental products. One of these endeavors was Google Drive. Google had already stepped into the office products space in 2006 with the launch of Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides. While these products weren’t nearly as robust as Microsoft’s offerings, they were completely free which attracted a large number of casual users. In 2010, Google acquired a company called Obverse which allowed multiple people to collaborate on documents. While this was an intriguing idea, the implementation wasn’t quite right. Sundar, however, had the perfect solution for this: Google Drive. Instead of storing files locally, google drive allowed users to store their files in Google’s data centers which not only made it easy to collaborate but also easy to access these files anywhere in the world. Similar to Google Chrome, Sundar didn’t invent the cloud by any means. However, his execution was brilliant. And that brings us to his third-biggest contribution which was Chrome OS.
Once again, Chrome OS was also not an original idea. Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle was trying to create something similar in the late 1990s called the network computer. But, Larry found it extremely difficult to gain much attraction from the market as he was simply targeting all PC users who wanted a cheaper machine. Sundar, however, targeted a super niche market: students and light users. Chrome OS didn’t try to compete against Windows or Mac OS. There’s no question that Windows and Mac OS are far better for serious tasks. But this is Chrome OS’s biggest strength. By simply focusing on simple computer tasks and leaving the serious tasks up to Windows and Mac, Chrome OS was able to nail the simple tasks for an unbeatable price. And this has proven extremely attractive to a niche group of customers.
Road to CEO
Given all of these major contributions to Google, it’s not surprising that Sundar was promoted to Senior Vice President of Chrome and apps in 2012. Just a year later in 2013, Andy Rubin, the creator of Android, would leave Google, and Larry Page would give Sundar Pichai the responsibility of managing the Android division as well. One of Sundar’s biggest contributions to Android was the Android one which significantly drove down the cost of entry-level smartphones. Sundar also made Android a much more integrated part of Google. Before Sundar took over Android, Android operated as a separate business that was simply owned by Google. Sundar’s influence at Google would slowly but consistently increase year after year, and in October of 2014, he was promoted to Product Chief. While this is quite a significant position, many other tech companies were offering Sundar even higher-level positions. Some rumors were floating around that Twitter was trying to hire Sundar as CEO in 2015. It also seems like Microsoft was seriously considering hiring Sundar as CEO in 2014. Despite these attractive offers, Sundar decided to stick to Google, and this would eventually pay off massively. In August 2015, Larry Page and Sergey Brin decided to step back from Google. They created a new holding company called Alphabet, and they became the leaders of Alphabet. Meanwhile, Sundar was promoted to CEO of Google. At this point, he was the CEO of the entire company and Larry and Sergey played chairman roles. But this would become official at the end of 2019 as Larry and Sergey stepped down from Alphabet as well, promoting Sundar to CEO of Alphabet. And given that Google stock has grown over 260% over the past 5 years, it’s not surprising that Sundar has received such massive compensation.
Lesson to learn from Sunder
So, what can we learn about Sundar’s unstoppable rise to the top? Well, the key thing to note about Sundar is that he’s not particularly notable within any of the classic character traits. He’s not an innovative genius like Elon Musk or Steve Jobs. Nor is he a creative genius like Steven Spielberg or James Cameron. He also wasn’t at the right place at the right time like Steve Ballmer. And though Sundar is extremely intelligent, I don’t necessarily think his success can be attributed to his intelligence either. After all, it’s not like he’s developing rocket engines or personally developing self-driving cars. But, despite not sticking out in any one of these categories, Sundar has achieved phenomenal success and I think that can be attributed to one thing: unparalleled execution. He didn’t create browsers, the cloud, smartphones, or even a company for that matter. However, Sundar was able to bring every product he worked on to life better than any of the competition whether that be through the UI, the cost to the customer, or the integration with Google’s other products. Sundar has proven that you don’t have to be the first to be the best.
And given that this was the foundation for Google as a whole, I can’t think of anyone better than Sundar Pichai to lead the company. Why do you guys think Sundar is successful? Comment that down below. Also, drop a like if you think Sundar deserves his success.