Sundar Pichai is reed-thin, like a marathon runner. Soft-spoken, hair unfashionably short, cropped with a severe side parting, a hint of grey in his beard, his appearance complements his curriculum vitae: A degree in metallurgy and materials science from Indian Institute of Technology-Kharagpur, followed by a master’s in engineering from Stanford University and another in business from Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
And, of course, at 43, he has the top job at Google Inc.
He has a sharp, piercing look that is offset by a ready smile that could be a reflection of what he thinks about the question or that he is really delighted to talk about the subject. Artificial intelligence, for instance, seems to be something that he is passionate about and Google is using that in TensorFlow, its open-source platform for machine learning.
You know within minutes of interaction that he is a thoughtful man, not a sharpshooter.
For someone who has spent nearly two decades in the US, he retains a strong south Indian accent that dovetails with his refusal to write off India or accept suggestions about the country’s infamous inability to foster innovative products like, well, Google.
He explains that India is at the take-off point with enough people connected to the internet to offer the kind of market viability the US offered start-ups back in 2004 when Google was born. “Constraints”, he remarks a trifle dramatically, “inspire creativity”.
For a man who steered some of the iconic Google products like Chrome and Android, there are no limits. So, with the zeal of an evangelist, he talks about the potential of payment systems to fuel business in India. Imagine if you could transfer money from people to people and people to businesses, with the ease that people exchange messages.
His next job could be as a global statesman, so adept is he at steering conversations and disarming people. But the ‘nice guy’ image that Pichai has may be deceptive, for mostly he manages to steer people around to his point of view.