11.8.15

Sundar Pichai

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Google's Sundar Pichai rode buses, had no television while growing up

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By Times of India 

Last year when he was appointed the product head for key Google products like Android, Search, Maps, etc, Bloomberg called Sundar Pichai "the most powerful man in mobile." Today, the title has become official as Larry Page has handed over the title of Google CEO to the Chennai-born engineer with an eye for product development.

Pichai's story seems straight out of a Bollywood flick, a tale of a boy born without a silver spoon in the mouth going to achieve one of the most coveted positions in the world through sheer hard work.

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Following is an excerpt from a report by Bloomberg:

Pichai was born in Chennai, a city of 4 million in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. His mother worked as a stenographer before she had children; his father was an electrical engineer for the British conglomerate GEC and managed a factory that made electrical components.

"I used to come home and talk to him a lot about my work day and the challenges I faced," recalls Regunatha Pichai. "Even at a young age, he was curious about my work. I think it really attracted to him to technology."

The family of four lived in a two-room apartment, with Sundar and his younger brother sleeping in the living room. During much of his childhood, the Pichais didn't have a television or a car. For transportation, the choice was either one of the crowded, stifling city buses or the family's blue Lambretta scooter. All four would pile on — Regunatha driving, Sundar standing at the front, and his younger brother perched on the back of the seat with their mother.



The Pichais got their first telephone, a rotary, when Sundar was 12. The phone revealed to him the magical conveniences of technology, as well as an unusual gift: He could remember every number he ever dialed. "My uncle would call up and say, 'Hey, I lost this phone number, but you once helped me dial it,' and I would be able to tell him," Pichai says. "I wasn't so sure that was useful."

(It is now: Google executives marvel at Pichai's powers of numerical recall. Alan Eustace, vice president for engineering, says that during a recent meeting, Pichai produced a statistic related to the increase of voice-activated searches. "That's my area," Eustace says, "and he knew a number I did not know.")

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Pichai excelled at school and won a coveted spot at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur, where he studied engineering. After graduating, he won an additional scholarship to Stanford University to study materials science and semiconductor physics.


Pichai's father tried to take out a loan to cover the cost of the plane ticket and other expenses. When it didn't come through in time, he withdrew $1,000 from the family's savings — more than his annual salary. "My dad and mom did what a lot of parents did at the time," Pichai says. "They sacrificed a lot of their life and used a lot of their disposable income to make sure their children were educated."

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Upon arriving at Stanford in 1993, he tried to buy a new backpack and "was in an absolute state of shock" to learn it cost $60. He later bought a used one on an online bulletin board. Pichai lived with a host family during his first year and spent much of the time miserably lamenting the absence of his girlfriend, Anjali, who later joined him in the US and is now his wife.



Pichai planned to get a PhD at Stanford and pursue an academic career, but he briefly panicked his parents by dropping out to work as an engineer and product manager at Applied Materials, a Silicon Valley semiconductor maker. After getting an MBA from the Wharton School of Business in 2002 and spending a stint as a consultant at McKinsey, Pichai arrived at the Googleplex on April 1, 2004. On the day of his job interview, Google launched Gmail, the free email service. Pichai says he thought it was one of the company's famous April Fools' pranks.