The new leader of Google’s parent company is one of the most powerful people on the planet, but still relatively unknown.
While waiting for the interview, I caught a glimpse of a pink T-shirt sitting on the back of a chair outside his office, tucked away in Google’s sprawling Silicon Valley headquarters. The shirt bore an image of Pichai staring soulfully off into the distance. In bold, capital letters, it said WWSD, for “What Would Sundar Do?”
Now that question is more than rhetorical. On Tuesday, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin made a bombshell announcement: After more than 20 years, the iconic pair is stepping aside to let , Google’s parent company. He had already been heading Google, the part of the conglomerate that includes the juggernaut search engine, maps service and YouTube. Now he’ll also be in charge of self-driving cars, efforts to extend the human lifespan and the rest of Alphabet’s vast universe.
While Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos have become household names, Pichai is still relatively unknown outside the tech industry. Despite that low profile, he’s quietly become one of the most powerful people on the planet. With Google’s projects, Pichai presides over the front lines of digital information, the world’s biggest receptacle of online videos and the future of artificial intelligence.
Pichai’s appointment comes as tech giants find themselves, sometimes to their chagrin, lead actors on a global economic and political stage. Politicians and regulators from around the world have zeroed in on the industry’s intense power, blaming the big tech platforms for the spread of disinformation, tribalism and extremism.
“I’m excited about Alphabet’s long-term focus on tackling big challenges through technology,” Pichai tweeted after the announcement. “Thanks to Larry & Sergey, we have a timeless mission, enduring values and a culture of collaboration & exploration — a strong foundation we’ll continue to build on.”
The heir apparent
For years, Pichai slowly climbed the ranks at Google. After joining the search giant in 2004, he rose to oversee the development of the Chrome browser, to run the Android operating system and, four years ago, to take over all of Google. Now the quiet but energetic executive will run the entirety of Alphabet’s sprawling operations.
“Sundar brings humility and a deep passion for technology to our users, partners and our employees every day,” Page and Brin, Stanford buddies who founded Google in a garage, wrote in a letter announcing Pichai’s promotion. “There is no one that we have relied on more since Alphabet was founded, and no better person to lead Google and Alphabet into the future.”