Thanks to “The Social Network,” the thought of a Silicon Valley giant may bring to mind the stereotypically unsociable genius, a la Mark Zuckerberg. But Google’s newly instated CEO — a Penn graduate — has struck his peers and employees as reflective, thoughtful and down to earth.
On Aug. 10, a massive corporate restructuring placed Google under a new company called Alphabet, which catapulted 2002 Wharton MBA graduate Sundar Pichai into the limelight as Google’s new leader. Google’s previous CEO, Larry Page, will run parent company Alphabet along with Google co-founder Sergey Brin, while Pichai takes charge of a downsized Google.
The tech company’s restructuring is designed to reinvigorate Google’s innovative spirit by reducing bureaucracy, as well as to render the company more attractive to investors by separating Google’s most profitable businesses from its other, often more experimental, endeavors.
Pichai, who is from India, beat the odds in an impressive array of personal and academic feats before entering Google in 2004. A published last year describes his low-income childhood in urban India, including the fact that his family didn’t own a television or a car for most of his childhood.
Pichai proceeded to earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur and then his masters of science from Stanford University, where he studied materials science and semiconductor physics. After working as an engineer in Silicon Valley, Pichai attended Wharton, graduating as part of the top five percent of his 2002 MBA class and being named a Siebel scholar, a distinction given to top students in prestigious graduate programs.
Pichai’s personality left an equally strong impression on his peers.
“I just remember him being a super nice, personable guy. He was very friendly, very down-to-earth and obviously just an incredibly smart guy,” said Duncan Young, who also graduated from Wharton in 2002 as a Siebel scholar, of Pichai.
Fellow 2002 MBA recipient Amit Sinha described Pichai as “softspoken, reflective, thoughtful [and] down-to-earth.” He added, “He would listen carefully to what you would say. He never had any air about him, and he was very friendly to most people.”
After a brief stint in consulting at McKinsey & Company, Pichai was hired by Google as a product manager in 2004 and quickly began to climb internally through a series of highly successful projects.
Starting off as a product manager overseeing the Google toolbar, Pichai went on to lead the development of Google’s web browser, Google Chrome. He was then promoted to vice president and then senior vice president and headed key sections of the company including Gmail, Google Docs and Android.
In light of his rapid success, Pichai’s reputation as a kind, quietly confident leader has followed him from Penn to the top of the corporate ladder. Parth Chopra, a Wharton and Engineering sophomore who interned at Google this summer, said Pichai carries a very positive reputation at Google.
“He’s really popular within Google — I was only there for 12 weeks — but everyone I know really liked him and really respected him,” he said. “I heard he also brings a different way of management to Google — apparently Google is a pretty aggressive company, so to get things done you have to argue your way to the top, but he’s very nice, calculated and in general has a good management style, and that’s why people are very happy. People want that.”
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