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Profile: Google CEO and Wharton MBA Sundar Pichai

The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania has no doubt produced a number of the most prominent global leaders in politics, tech, business, media and the arts. In fact, it would be difficult to name an industry that the school’s best and brightest have not influenced.

But Sundar Pichai, who was named chief executive officer of Google, Inc. in October of 2015, is one of Wharton’s most significant.

Memorizing Digits in Tamil Nadu

Pichai was born in 1972 and spent his childhood in Madras, Tamil Nadu, India. Despite living in a relatively middle-class neighborhood, his family had no television or car, and the family of four lived in a two-room apartment.

His mother (a stenographer) and father (a retired electrical engineer and factory manager) made great sacrifices to ensure that Sundar’s early interest in technology would be fueled. In a 2015 Bloomberg article, his father said, “Even at a young age, he was curious about my work, and I think that really attracted him to technology.”

His family soon realized Pichai’s unique intelligence. As a boy he had a penchant for memorizing every number that he’d ever dialed on the household’s rotary phone.

Sundar Pichai Google CEO

Sundar Pichai Google CEO

Degrees in Threes

After winning a math and science scholarship during his senior year of high school, Sundar went on to attend the Indian Institute of Technology, where he earned a degree in metallurgical engineering.

He won yet another scholarship to Stanford in 1993, where he earned a MS in material sciences and engineering. From there he worked in Silicon Valley for various companies as an engineer.

Sundar then moved on to Wharton, where he earned his MBA in 2002 as one of the top five percent of his class. He was named both a Siebel Scholar and a Palmer Scholar, which are among the school’s most prestigious awards. Fellow classmates at Wharton described Sundar as “very friendly, very down-to-earth and obviously just…incredibly smart” and “softspoken, reflective, and thoughtful”.

Sundar Pichai Conquers Google

He was hired by Google in 2004 as a product manager after a brief tenure at McKinsey & Company.  One of his first projects was the development and implementation of the search engine’s Toolbar. After that product’s success, he proceeded to lead the creation of the Chrome browser. He is credited for convincing Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Google co-founders, that the company should build its own browser in order to compete with Microsoft’s.

Sundar’s trajectory of success continued at Google when he was promoted first to vice president, and then to senior vice president and ultimately to CEO in August of 2015. Upon this appointment he was given the task of overseeing the Search engine, Gmail, Android, Google Docs, YouTube and Maps, in addition to Google’s enormous advertising business.

The pivotal restructuring that resulted in the creation of Google’s holding company, Alphabet, Inc. was the change upon which Pichai became CEO.

As noted in Bloomberg:

“Now comes the hard part [as CEO after the Alphabet acquisition]… His new role will be about positioning Google for the future, which hands him some of the toughest jobs in all of tech, like … combating the rapid growth of Amazon.com Inc. in e-commerce and cloud computing and Facebook in social networking.”

His position is unique in that he is challenged to combine his expertise in product development with the needs of the business, that is, the generation of revenue through advertising.  Pichai serves as a powerful example of the value of the combination of creative thinking alongside technological know-how and leadership, all things which one gains during an MBA education.

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About the Author

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Maggie Boccella

Maggie Boccella, a lifelong resident of Philadelphia, is a freelance writer, artist and photographer. She has consulted on various film and multimedia projects, and she also serves as a juror for the city's annual LGBTQIA Film Festival.

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