Sundar Pichai took over Google aged 47. Here’s his advice to anyone with similar ambitions.

Sundar Pichai
Google CEO Sundar Pichai urges aspiring leaders to follow their heart.

  • Google’s CEO said aspiring CEOs should ‘figure out what their heart is excited by.’
  • He was speaking in an in-depth interview with BBC journalist Amol Rajan.
  • Pichai also revealed he speaks 3 languages and currently drives a Tesla.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Google parent Alphabet, has offered some advice for people who want to run a successful company: Find something that excites you.

In an hour-long interview with the BBC’s media editor Amol Rajan, Pichai talks about the potential of quantum computing, the dangers of AI, and whether Alphabet, with a market capitalization of $1.6 trillion, is too big.

He also recalls the “simplicity” of his middle-class childhood growing up in Madurai, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and his rise up the career ladder to become CEO of Alphabet in 2019, aged 47.

Pichai earned $281 million in compensation last year. When asked what his advice would be to someone from humble beginnings who wants to run a great company, Pichai said:

“I’ve always felt that – more than what your mind says – you need to figure out what your heart is excited by. It’s a journey and you will know it when you find it,” said Pichai.

“If you find that, things tend to work out,” he added.

Pichai said that he had wanted to work in Silicon Valley since he was a teenager and that his father took out a loan, worth a year’s salary, in order for Pichai to afford his flight and study at Stanford.

When asked how to land a job at Google, he gave some insight into the interview process when he applied for his first role in 2004. Pichai said: “You keep interviewing. I was interviewing on April Fool’s day and Google had just announced Gmail – which I thought was a joke.

“People kept asking me what I think of Gmail, which was invite-only at the time. It was only the fourth or fifth interviewer who asked ‘Have you seen Gmail?’ and I said no. He showed me on his computer.

“Then the next interview somebody asked me, I was able to answer it for the first time.”

He speaks to Mark Zuckerberg ‘as and when needed’

Pichai also offered some insight into his own personal work habits as CEO of one of the world’s biggest companies.

He wakes up between 6.30-7 am and tries to exercise three or four times a week. He doesn’t eat meat, and drinks tea in the mornings and coffee in the afternoons. He speaks three languages – English, Hindi and Tamil – and currently drives a Tesla.

The Wall Street Journal has been a long-term reading habit, although “90% of his consumption” is now online, from publications around the world.

When asked how often he speaks to Facebook chief and rival Mark Zuckerberg, he replied “as and when needed.”

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Google reportedly uses a strategy called ‘pantry mode’ that leads to it sitting on new ideas until a competitor forces its hand

Alphabet & Google CEO Sundar Pichai
Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks during Google I/O 2016

  • Google often sits on new products until a competitor prompts action, according to a new report.
  • Current and former Google executives told the NYT that Google’s CEO often struggles with big decisions.
  • One exiting Google exec wrote in a blog post that Google’s risk aversion is a barrier to innovation.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Google uses a research-and-development strategy known within the company as ‘pantry mode,’ according to a report Monday in The New York Times. When teams create new products, they often sit on them until a competitor announces something new or similar that Google decides it should respond to, according to the report.

Despite Google’s soaring profit and revenue, some former and current Google executives told the Times they worry that ‘pantry mode’ is just one indicator of an increasingly risk-averse culture that’s tied to CEO Sundar Pichai’s struggle to make important decisions in a timely manner.

Pichai’s leadership style allows the Google management team to make many decisions without his sign-off, according to the Times. Some Google employees view this as a lack of ego, while others see it as an inability to take action due to an obsession with what the public might think, according to the report.

A spokesperson for Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the company provided other executives to the Times to speak to Pichai’s leadership style, which you can read here, and said employees had good things to say about him in internal surveys.

Google is spending more than ever on R&D under Pichai

While it’s not clear exactly which products or services have been developed as part of a “pantry mode” strategy, Google has steadily spent more money on researching and developing new products during Pichai’s tenure as CEO.

Pichai took over as chief executive in 2015, and the company’s R&D costs have grown every year since. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, which Pichai became CEO of at the end of 2019, spent $27.57 billion on R&D in 2020.

The same year, Google discontinued dozens of products such as the Google Play Music and Google Station, which joined a long list of other retired Google products known as “the Google graveyard.”

Comparatively, Facebook’s R&D expenses amounted to $18.45 billion, with Apple spending slightly more at $18.75 billion. Out of the big four tech giants, Amazon has the highest R&D spending at $42.7 billion.

Building off rival products is not a strategy isolated to Google. Last summer, newly released emails from April 2012 show Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other executives agreeing that “copying is faster than innovating.”

In August 2020, Facebook launched Instagram Reels in an attempt to compete with Tik Tok. Most social-media companies have adopted a version of Snapchat’s ephemeral Stories, such as Twitter Fleets and Instagram Stories.

As Google continues growing in size and value, the Times’ report makes it clear it’s facing a common concern that comes with being an entrenched and dominant company: is it moving too slowly and playing things too safe?

David Baker, a former director of engineering at Google’s trust and safety group, told the Times, “The more secure Google has become financially, the more risk-averse it has become.”

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150 business leaders, including Google’s Sundar Pichai and longtime Trump ally Stephen Schwarzman, are backing Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill in a letter to Congress

Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, President Joe Biden, Google CEO Sundar Pichai
Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, President Joe Biden, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

  • More than 150 execs at big US firms have said they support Joe Biden’s relief package.
  • Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman and Google CEO Sundar Pichai were among those who signed a letter to lawmakers.
  • “Congress should act swiftly and on a bipartisan basis to authorize a stimulus and relief package,” the execs wrote.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

More than 150 executives from top US companies spanning a range of industries including finance, tech, and real estate have backed President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package in a letter sent to Congress Wednesday.

They include Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, who was a longtime ally of President Donald Trump; Google CEO Sundar Pichai; and Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon.

The letter, written by the Partnership for New York City, was addressed to Charles Ellis Schumer, the Senate majority leader; Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House; Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader; and Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader.

The letter calls for lawmakers to approve the relief package. The executives said they “urge immediate and large-scale federal legislation to address the health and economic crises brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

CNN first reported on the news.

Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan, the American Rescue Plan, includes proposals for additional $1,400 stimulus checks, bigger federal unemployment benefits, and expanded family and child benefits, as well as plans to tackle the pandemic through testing, vaccines, and support for reopening schools safely.

“Previous federal relief measures have been essential, but more must be done to put the country on a trajectory for a strong, durable recovery,” the executives wrote.

“Congress should act swiftly and on a bipartisan basis to authorize a stimulus and relief package along the lines of the Biden-Harris administration’s proposed American Rescue Plan.”

John Zimmer, the cofounder and president of Lyft; Brian Roberts, the chairman and CEO of Comcast; Larry Fink, the chairman and CEO of BlackRock; and John Stankey, the CEO of AT&T, also signed the letter.

Executives from the following companies are among those that signed the letter:

  • Banking and investment: Goldman Sachs, BlackRock, Morgan Stanley, Visa, S&P Global, MasterCard, and Blackstone
  • Technology: Google, Intel, IBM, Siemens, Zoom, DoorDash, and Lyft
  • Hospitality and retail: Loews Hotels & Co, LVMH, Etsy, and Saks Fifth Avenue
  • Airlines: American Airlines, United Airlines, and JetBlue Airways
  • Telecommunications: AT&T and Comcast
  • Real estate, insurance, and utility firms

Schwarzman was a longtime ally of President Donald Trump who defended Trump’s lawsuits challenging his loss in the 2020 US election. In the aftermath of the January 6 Capitol riot, Schwarzman said he was “shocked and horrified” by the insurrection and called for a peaceful transition to Biden.

Biden has previously said the US needs new measures to deal with both the health and economic impacts of the pandemic.

“We can’t let one wait,” he told reporters earlier this month. “We can’t get everybody well and then move on the economy. We have to move quickly on both.”

The executives supported this stance in their letter.

“Strengthening the public health response to coronavirus is the first step toward economic restoration,” the executives wrote, per CNN.

Biden and the White House have been working with business leaders to gather support for his stimulus deal.

On February 10, Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen met the CEOs of JPMorgan Chase, Walmart, Gap, Lowe’s, and the Chamber of Commerce to discuss the stimulus deal and the push for a $15 federal minimum wage.

Biden’s administration has also spoken with representatives from the Business Roundtable, Ernst & Young, General Motors, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Black Economic Alliance, a White House official told CNBC.

The role big businesses play in politics has come under scrutiny in the aftermath of the Capitol siege. Dozens of top US businesses halted donations to Trump and other lawmakers who challenged the election’s integrity.

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