Here’s What Our Google Sources Are Saying About Sundar Pichai’s Sudden Rise
Pichai will now oversee almost all of the company’s product areas, including the search, maps, Google+, commerce and ads, and infrastructure teams. He’s essentially the company’s new second-in-command, overseeing all Google-branded products (note that he will not oversee YouTube or any other companies within Google like Nest or Calico).
In Page’s memo to employees about the switch, he writes that “Sundar has a tremendous ability to see what’s ahead and mobilize teams around the super important stuff.”
Page is not the only one with high praise for Pichai. Business Insider touched base with a bunch of sources close to the company to get their reactions on him and his new position.
Here’s what we’ve heard:
- Everyone whom Business Insider talked to about Pichai emphasized that the exec was very empathetic; he actually cares about people. One former employee even said that Sundar was “without a doubt, one of the best people I’ve worked with,” adding that when he decided to leave Google for a startup, Pichai was incredibly supportive and offered to help in any way he could.
- Pichai also knows how to build amazing teams. According to one former Googler, “He promotes really good people as opposed to the most political and opportunistic people.”
- Unlike many execs, another source says, Pichai can “gracefully navigate the politics of a company as large as Google.”
- Because Pichai has a reputation of being so enjoyable to work with, people want to transfer to his org, which goes back to his ability to build strong teams.
- Another former Googler who started one year before Pichai (who joined the company in 2004) says that even though Pichai was smart and capable from the get-go, “NO ONE” would have guessed he would end up as the company’s second-in-command. He “did not have an obvious flair or overwhelming charm,” our source says.
- That “substance over overt style,” attitude ultimately sums up Pichai’s focus on quality work, focus, and results instead of standing out, we’re told.
- Not that everyone will necessarily be thrilled to have Pichai in charge. Sundar rose very fast within Google, and the egos of several members of Google’s SVP team who have been around a long time are bruised. “Most of Google remembers him in a much more junior role,” one source says. “For some of the old-timers, reporting to the guy that used to be four levels below you is a challenging thing.”
- Another source tells the story of a meeting that took place about eight months ago that shows how Pichai could act as Page’s interpreter. It was a planning meeting with a bunch of VPs and directors from across products to discuss several secret projects, and they were all squabbling. Then, Page walked in. He started talking about abstract concepts and big ideas unrelated to the established engineering roadmap and introducing aspects the teams hadn’t expected. Everyone was shocked into silence, and Page walked out without getting a single question. A minute later, Pichai walked in and broke everything down: “I talked to Larry, and I think what he means is this …” After that meeting concluded, Pichai hopped between the different teams and helped them figure out how they would move forward on the projects together. “He’s like the Aaron to Larry’s Moses,” our source says, meaning that Pichai often acted as a spokesman for Page (in his memo to employees about Pichai’s new position, Page acknowledged that the two “very much see eye-to-eye“). By not only interpreting Page’s vision, but then coordinating efforts between groups, Pichai may have already been stepping into his role before it was officially given to him.
- Another former Googler agrees that “managing Larry,” is one of Pichai’s major skills. One of the main differences between the two, though, is that Page’s tendency is to say “no” to everything while Pichai’s tendency is to say “yes” to everything. This can be both a strength and a weakness, our source says. Pichai is amazing at finding ways to get teams to compromise, we’ve heard, but that management technique will be put under stress in his new role, where he’ll have to make tough decisions in which both parties won’t be happy.
- An anecdote we heard on Pichai’s collaborative nature: Instead of being the kind of manager who interjected throughout a meeting, he would sit in the back, listen quietly, and then, once everyone had their say, deliver an idea that could work for everyone.
- An interesting comparison we heard for Pichai’s new role: He’s going to be like a new Eric Schmidt, but working below Page instead of above him. Page liked having Schmidt to handle the things about running the company that he hated, like deciding how to allocate head counts for different teams or dealing with talent. Page will be able to once again focus on things he really cares about.
- One theory we heard about Pichai’s promotion was that it was partially motivated by Google’s growing need for a more cohesive product strategy.
- Several former Googlers even said that Page’s decision to promote Pichai gave them faith in both the CEO and the company’s future. “Seeing him get more and more responsibility gives me a ton of confidence in Larry’s leadership and ability to judge people,” one told us.