How Sundar Pichai Became CEO and Why Investors Want Him Fired

Ethan
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SUNDAR PICHAI

Sundar Pichai is in some hot water. In fact, notable investors think that it’s only a matter of time until Sundar either gets fired or is forced to resign. But wait a minute, wasn’t Sundar the golden child of Google earning hundreds of millions per year, scaling the company from a successful internet company to a tech giant, and nearly quintupling the stock price? 


Why Investors Want Sundar Pichai Fired


Well, yes, Sundar did do all of that, but when it comes to tech and high-growth companies in general, you’re not judged based on past performance. You’re judged based on future expectations and future expectations for Sundar Pichai are at rock bottom. 


Google’s core products are slowly bleeding market share, their workforce is more bloated than ever despite layoffs, and most importantly, they’re completely dropping the ball when it comes to AI. And to make things worse for Sundar, Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founder has unexpectedly come out of retirement. 


After completely falling off the face of the planet back in 2015 and handing over the reigns to Sundar, Sergey made a surprise entrance in mid-2023 to work on AI. More recently, Sergey made a rare public appearance just to admit how bad of a job Google had done with Gemini. 


So, naturally, speculation regarding Sergey replacing Sundar has gone wild as we’ve seen this time and time again with other stumbling companies like Apple, Dell, Starbucks, Disney, and Twitter. But, how did we even get here? How did things get so bad so quickly for Google? And will Sundar Pichai actually be fired? Well, let’s find out. 



SUNDAR BREAKS IN

To understand how we got here, we first have Sundar Breaks In to take a look back at how Sundar became CEO in the first place. If you read Sundar’s Wikipedia page or business publications, you’ll be shown a rosy story about a man who worked his way up from the very bottom. 


The story goes that Sundar was born to a humble middle-class family in India back in June of 1972. Through pure grit and hard work, he was able to make it into one of the most competitive colleges in the world IIT. For those of you who aren’t aware, IIT has an acceptance rate of just 2.5%. For perspective, even Stanford and Harvard have acceptance rates twice as high at 5%. 



IIT, Stanford and Harvard acceptance rate


And the funny thing is that Sundar would go on to make it into Stanford as well where he got a master's in engineering before going to UPenn and getting an MBA. So, little to say, Sundar had an extremely stacked academic background, and in 2004, he ended up joining Google as VP of product management of the Google Toolbar. 


From there, he would correctly identify that the toolbar as a whole was going extinct and convince Sergey and Larry to pursue an in-house browser that would go on to be a massive success. And it was due to this brilliant foresight that Sundar was eventually made CEO of Google, or at least that’s how the story goes. 


Now, let me first say that there is nothing fundamentally inaccurate about this story. And nothing I’m about to say is meant to take away from Sundar. Obviously, Sundar is one of the most accomplished people in all of tech period, and you can’t really argue against that whether he stays as Google’s CEO or not. 


But, with that being said, the problem with this story is that it’s only told from one perspective: Sundar’s perspective. He worked hard, studied hard, achieved big, and was rewarded. But the reality is that much of Sundar becoming CEO had nothing to do with anything that he had control over. You can actually argue that he was just a big cog in an even bigger machine and this dates all the way back to the day that he was hired. 


When Sundar was hired, the CEO of Google was a man named Eric Schmidt. This guy was neither a founder nor an early employee of Google. He was actually an external executive recruit who was put there by shareholders to keep Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin in check. Larry and Sergey got along with Eric but at the same time, they also naturally felt that they knew what was best for Google and they were constantly out to prove that. 


In fact, they were trying to do exactly that on the literal day that Sundar was interviewed. As you might know, Sundar was interviewed on the same day that Google launched Gmail. Gmail was one of Larry and Sergey’s first attempts at showing Eric and the world at large that Google could be a lot bigger than just search. 


It was the same thing with the Android acquisition, the YouTube acquisition, and the Google Maps acquisition. Oftentimes, Larry and Sergey wouldn’t even tell Eric about these acquisitions until after the fact. Talk about a great executive dynamic. 


But anyway, while these acquisitions were great, Larry and Sergey strongly felt that the real opportunity was going after the browser market. Eric, however, was strongly opposed to this idea. He felt that taking on Microsoft was too big of a challenge and essentially forbade Larry and Sergey from pursuing the idea for 6 full years. 


So, it’s not that Larry and Sergey pursued Chrome because Sundar gave them the idea. They already had the idea for years. They just didn’t have the authority or the right man for the job. When Sundar approached them with a similar idea though, they pounced on it. 


They basically just told Sundar to assemble a team and develop Chrome without Eric knowing. And here’s Eric describing how exactly that played out. 




Honestly pretty funny in retrospect, but unfortunately for Eric, this was the end of the road. Larry and Sergey had brought several successful products to market, including one that Eric opposed for years. 


So, this naturally brought into question Eric’s judgment and cemented the founders as the true geniuses behind Google, allowing Larry to win back the CEO position in 2011. This evolution made Sundar a part of the trusted inner circle, but he was by no means in the running for CEO. Fate, however, had a completely different idea. 



SUNDAR BECOMES CEO

Now that Larry and Sergey had full control of the company again, they would really lean into the moonshot projects that inspired them. Things like Google’s self-driving car and Google Glass. In fact, Larry wanted to make Google into a mad scientist island that was constantly working on the next big thing. But, investors weren’t so gung ho about this idea. 


Such visions simply painted Larry as a disconnected billionaire founder who lacked clarity and focus. To make things way worse, Larry’s voice would literally give out. You see, Larry was struggling with voice problems due to vocal chord paralysis since the early 2000s, and this would get especially bad in the 2010s. If you’ve never heard Larry speak, this is how he sounds. 




A clear testament to the idea that no amount of money can solve certain issues. Anyway, Larry would begin skipping shareholder meetings and presentations because he simply couldn’t speak which naturally put investors on edge. 


Not only was Google being led by a seemingly disconnected billionaire, but a person who struggled to even communicate their thoughts and vision. The good news is that Google was founded by 2 guys, so Sergey could step up to the plate right? Well, no. 


Sergey would actually get caught up in an affair which not only ruined his marriage and tarnished his reputation, but also destroyed his relationship with Larry. Apparently, Larry completely stopped talking to Sergey after the affair came to light. Alright, so Sergey was no longer in the running but there must be some other visionary executive at Google who could take the reigns right? 


Well, there was: Andy Rubin - the founder of Android. Oh wait, never mind, Andy was caught up in some serious misconduct allegations and was paid $90 million to leave Google as soon as possible. So, you had an executive who missed Chrome and a bunch of other stuff, a disconnected paralyzed founder, a founder with an affair, and an executive with serious allegations. 


Talk about an inspiring executive team. At this point, it was clear that what Google needed was not a revolutionary but someone who was uncontroversial. And that’s how Sundar actually became CEO. of course, he worked really hard and achieved great things, but what really knocked the final dominoes in his favor was circumstance. 



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The 4 people who were actually in the running for CEO: Eric, Larry, Sergey, and Andy were all forced out of the race in humiliating manners. And the only person that was left in the inner circle was the trusted ally who brought Chrome to market. And with that, Sundar Pichai would become CEO of Google on August 11, 2015. A few years later, he would get promoted to be CEO of Alphabet as a whole leading us into his lackluster performance. 



SUNDAR DROPS THE BALL

Ironically, you can’t fault Sundar for anything Sundar Drops The Ball that he’s done or not done over the past decade. The reality is that he did exactly what he was hired to do which was lead Google as uncontroversially as possible and maximize revenue and profits. Since he took over, Google’s revenue has quadrupled, its net income has quintupled, and its stock has gone to the moon. 


The only problem is that that’s all that Google has accomplished. I mean, can you even name a single big product launch that Google has had since Sundar took over? The biggest launch I can think of is the Google Pixel which is a phenomenal phone in terms of value, but not so great in terms of sales and market share. 


In fact, the Pixel does not even control 1% of the global smartphone market. Investors never had an issue with this lack of innovation though as long as Google was still the market leader, but all of this changed on November 30, 2022, when ChatGPT was released. All of a sudden, investors wanted Google to be able out innovate OpenAI who now also had backing from Microsoft. For obvious reasons, this was basically an impossible task especially when the time constraint was ASAP. 


Nonetheless, Sundar would try to deliver, launching Google Bard just a couple months later in March of 2023. Now, maybe, you could argue that Bard was technically better than ChatGPT because it was connected to the internet or something along those lines, but the reality was that no one really cared. 


graph comparing ChatGPT interest with Google Bard interest


Just look at this graph comparing ChatGPT interest with Google Bard interest, it’s almost nonexistent. Whether Bard was actually a copy of ChatGPT or not, that’s how the general public saw it, and they had no interest in using yet another Google product. This was only made worse by the fact that Google would botch the Bard release. 


An early Bard ad would show Bard giving factually incorrect information, which is not surprising given how rushed they were to get Bard to market. This mistake not only humiliated Bard and Google but also led to the company’s market value plummeting by $100 billion. This was strike 1 for Sundar. It was now up to him to fix Bard and that’s what Google Gemini was supposed to be about. 


It was supposed to be Google’s AI redemption, but Gemini would end up dropping the ball even worse than Bard. If you haven’t seen the social media memes yet, Gemini basically had an extreme “woke” bias. According to Gemini, this is George Washington, these are popes, and these are British royalty. 


Yeah, this blunder has not only made Gemini the laughing stock of the internet and lost the company another $96 billion in market cap, but it has eliminated all shareholder confidence that Sundar can actually lead Google into the age of AI. Combine this with the fact that Sergey is back and that his affair drama has time to cool off and it’s not looking great for Sundar. 


Historically, Sergey has always been in the shadows of Larry, so it’s very possible that he’s interested in being the main character this time. This isn’t to Sundar will be fired necessarily, but he may very well have to take a role underneath Sergey if he’s not pushed out altogether. 



So, how exactly did Sundar end up in this position? 

Well, despite his massive achievements, Sundar was always a cog in an even bigger machine. That’s how we got the CEO Title. And as CEO, he gave shareholders exactly what they asked for and shareholders simply realized that that’s not actually what they wanted, and that’s why they want Sundar fired.

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