Sundar Pichai has historically kept a low public profile, especially late, compared to other CEOs. A fascinating interview with Alphabet / Google CEO of the BBC was broadcast in the UK last week and reveals more than recent conversations.
BBC interviewer Amol Rajan starts with Sundar Pichai’s youth and upbringing. As a teenager (mid-late 1980s), Sundar said he already “really wanted to be in Silicon Valley.”
It was the site of Apple and where semiconductors were invented. I had this feeling that I wanted to be a part of where the technology was developed. It was my dream to come here.
It was a funny anecdote about how he had ice cream with (current YouTube) CEO Susan Wojcicki during the interview, which happened to happen when Gmail was first announced on April 1
Pichai: It struck me a little that this is a unique place. It’s different, and you know people are very optimistic and idealistic.
BBC: Is it still the same optimism and idealism today? Tempered by realism, I imagine
Pichai: Sure, I think people understand what’s at stake, but even today it’s a place where people reinforce your ideas. You’re talking about something you want to do, people are trying to help. They are based on your idea. And I still see that today, and it’s something I think is very unique and something I really appreciate.
In the midst of Big Tech facing significant regulatory action around the world, Pichai pushed back against the idea that the Google / Alphabet scale gives it a disproportionate amount of power:
I’m wondering if we’re innovating enough? So that we are relevant in 10 years, 20 years from now, 30 years from now. And I know the work that goes into earning it every year, we have to earn it again, and you know if we miss a single trend.
You know, you can go back 10 years ago or 15 years ago and look at the best market value companies. I’m sure their CEOS was in discussions like this. Some of these companies are not the best companies today.
It has always been true when you look back. So if you make a case in one way or another, this time will be different. That it is these companies that in one way or another will always be the most successful companies.
Throughout the interview, Pichai talks about how Google cares about competition. In one example, he spied on how an internal team looks at whether acquisitions will increase competition in the market. This connects to a recent one New York Times piece on how “Mr. Pichai struggled with aspects of [Fitbit] agreement, ”especially with regard to integration, product plans and protection of user data.
Finally, in a fun lightning round, Pichai reveals that he drives a Tesla, does not eat meat, that dosa (a South Indian crepe) is his favorite meal, and wishes he met Stephen Hawking.
The full interview with Sundar Pichai is available on BBC iPlayer if you are in the UK.
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