Google's new CEO rose from India's middle class to Silicon Valley's elite

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Carol Hills: I’m Carol Hills in for Marco Werman and this is The World. Okay, so Google is now Alphabet, except Alphabet is actually Google’s new parent company and Google is still around and has a brand new CEO. Okay, if you find news of Google’s restructuring a bit confusing, I’ve got someone here who can help. Brad Stone is a senior writer for Businessweek. He actually profiled Google’s new CEO, Sundar Pichai, last year. Stone describes the tech giant’s big reshuffle this way.


Brad Stone: Alphabet is now a holding company for a lot of Google properties, including Google, the company we all know, but then other divisions: Calico, Life sciences division; the Google X lab, which people have probably heard a lot about, it’s developing internet-connected balloons and those glasses; and then, of course, another division under the Alphabet moniker is Nest, which makes the internet-connected thermostats. Larry Page is the CEO of Alphabet, but now Sundar Pichai, one of his long time executives, is going to be the CEO of the Google subsidiary.


Hills: Sundar Pichai is someone who grew up pretty modestly in India. How did he make it to Silicon Valley?


Stone: Well, it’s a really incredible story and it’s the kind of story that might not have been possible 20-30 years ago. He was the oldest son of an electrical engineer in Chennai, India. They were middle class, but at the time that meant they didn’t have a telephone, they didn’t have a TV, the family got around on a scooter. But Sundar was incredibly talented, he scored very high on the national exams, he went to the Indian Institute of Technology, and after he graduated he got a scholarship to Stanford, and Sundar came to Silicon Valley in 1993 really just at the dawn of the internet revolution.


Hills: What was it like for him when he first got here?


Stone: You know, we talked about that and he really described a kind of cultural whiplash. First of all, he was desperately missing his girlfriend back home, Anjali, who’s now his wife. But mostly it was sort of an economic whiplash. His father had given him $1,000 to kind of set himself up and he described himself at being amazed and horrified at how much it cost to buy a backpack. And then the other kind of big adjustment factor was that he had unfettered computer and internet access for the very first time. Suddenly, this new frontier was wide open.


Hills: Now, you interviewed him last year for that profile, you asked him if he expected to become Google’s CEO. How did he respond?


Stone: Well, so he’s very humble, he’s very affable. I think one of the keys to his success is he’s sort of a peacemaker inside Google among the many divisions and with Google and some of its partners, the media companies and telcos that are very ambivalent about Google’s power. When I asked Sundar about it, he sort of humbly laughed and said, “No, no, no, Larry plans to be CEO for a very long time.” Technically, that’s still true. I mean, Larry is CEO of Alphabet but now Sundar has more authority over Google.


Hills: Now Sundar Pichai joins a growing list of top tech CEOs who are immigrants to the US. Does his new job tell us anything about diversity in the tech world?


Stone: I mean, I think it does in the context of the debate over immigration, over H-1B visas, the incendiary things that Donald Trump has been saying, people have a stereotype about immigrant. I think when you look at Sundar’s success, his reputation is that he gets things done. He was really responsible for the Chrome browser, Google’s browser, which starts 10 years ago, nobody gives it a shot against what was then a dominant Internet Explorer from Microsoft, and now Chrome is the most used browser in the world. I think we want people like Sundar Pichai coming to the US and innovating here rather than elsewhere.


Hills: Now my final question goes back to this creation of this holding company, Alphabet. Their website is already blocked in China. What are the global implications of this Google restructuring?


Stone: Google has different challenges in different parts of the world. As you mentioned, China continues to be a problem for Google, they’re still blocked, I don’t expect that to change. The other huge problem for them is Europe, where there’s a mounting antitrust investigation into Google and the way it uses its market power and search to get into adjacent businesses. I don’t expect this will affect that investigation, Google’s in pretty serious trouble. The main thing is I don’t think Larry Page or Sergey Brin have ever really wanted to be the ambassador for Google in that type of situation. But clearly Sundar Pichai, as now CEO of the Google subsidiary, is taking a bigger role and I’ve heard that as the leaders of European telephone companies and media companies visit Mountain View, they go and talk to Sundar right now. So clearly Sundar will be the point person as Google navigates some of these issues around the world.


Hills: Brad Stone is a senior writer for Bloomberg Businessweek, talking about the new CEO, Sundar Pichai, at Google. Thank you so much.


Stone: Thank you, Carol.