Memos to employees, blogposts, tweets: Crisis-management and boss lessons from Sundar Pichai

When a 20-year-oldarrived in the US decades ago, armed with a scholarship for Stanford University, little did he know that he would one day become a poster boy of success, not just for Indian parents, but people all over the world. Born in then Madras (now Chennai) to an electrical engineer father and housewife mother, Pichai Sundararajan, earned a degree in metallurgy from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, before completing his post-graduation from Stanford and then an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School.

Pichai, who joinedin 2004, went on to become the CEO of the company in 2015, but his rise didn’t stop there. The top boss, who is often described as humble despite his meteoric rise, was named CEO of Google’s parent companyjust 4 years later when the company’s co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, announced in December 2019, that they would be stepping down.

Pichai’s run as the top boss at one of the world’s biggest tech companies has been peppered with highs and lows. From employee protests and walkouts in 2018 over the company’s handling of sexual misconduct cases, precipitated by the #MeToo scandal, to the tech giant promising to make a positive impact when it comes to diversity, the India-American boss has stood strong through it all, often penning blogs, making changes and even turning to social media to voice his opinions.

Close To Home
US President Donald Trump’s recent order to restrict immigration including H-1B visas amidst the coronavirus pandemic is a move that drew widespread criticism. Pichai, a product of a global world and immigration himself, was among the leaders who vocally came out to slam POTUS’s decision.

“Immigration has contributed immensely to America’s economic success, making it a global leader in tech, and also Google the company it is today,” the India-born CEO, who’s first ticket to America cost as much as his father’s annual salary, said in a tweet. Adding that he was disappointed by the proclamation, and would continue to ‘stand with immigrants and work to expand opportunity for all’.

A More Inclusive World
The recent worldwide outcry against police brutality stirred by the tragic death of George Floyd saw companies around the world promise to step-up their act and pledge support to the Black Lives Matter movement. Pichai in a blogpost wrote that “violent and racist attacks against the Black community have forced the world to reckon with the structural and systemic racism that Black people have experienced over generations.”

As part of the several initiatives launched towards fighting racial injustice, Pichai said Google would increase Black+ representation at senior levels, ‘committing to a goal to improve leadership representation of underrepresented groups by 30 per cent by 2025’.

Google also pledged a $175 million+ package to support Black business owners, startup founders, job seekers and developers, in addition to YouTube’s $100 million fund to amplify Black creators and artists.

Accepting Mistakes
In 2019, when YouTube found itself in the middle of controversy after its decision to not take down some videos featuring homophobic slurs, Pichai – on damage-control mode – penned a letter (a copy of which was published by The Verge) to employees saying the company was taking a ‘hard look’ at its harassment policies. He echoed YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki’s apology to the LGBTQ+ community, and said it was important to him ‘to work hard to ensure Google is a place where everyone feels included’.

Sundar Pichai: Not Just Tech, But Loves Tendulkar & Burgers, Too!


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​Memory Games

Growing up in Chennai, Pichai could remember every number that he ever dialled. At a time when there were no mobile phones, it was indeed quite a gift.

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