What did Sundar Pichai do to get promoted up to the highest ranks at Google?

Answer by Jeff Nelson:

I'm not sure about the question details in regard to Marissa Mayer. Mayer left Google and went to head Yahoo. That happened well before Pichai's promotion to SVP.  I don't think there's any connection.

There is also this story from Fortune, which is at least getting some of the details wrong:

"In a series of sometimes tense conversations with top brass around the time of a major update to IE in October 2006, Pichai argued that Microsoft could threaten a sizable chunk of Google’s business, according to two executives who were there. “It was a doomsday-like scenario,” one of the executives says. Shortly after, Google execs gave Chrome the green light."

I'm thinking this story is the product of Chinese whispers, because it's getting some of the details half-correct. Chrome was greenlighted around April 15, 2006, so if this 'series of meetings' occurred they happened in April 2006.

What did happen in October 2006 was not that a Pm heroically stood up and pronounced a Doomsday scenario for Google, what happened was that Doomsday arrived. October 18, 2006 was Doomsday for Google's business, because on that day, Microsoft suddenly and without warning changed the default Search engine on IE to Bing. For years, the default had been Google, so anyone using IE was automatically coming to Google. That IE driven traffic was worth billions of dollars to Google and by some measures represented about 65% of visits to Google. Losing that traffic absolutely was a Doomsday scenario for Google and everyone knew it. There was even some talk about whether this was going to drive Google out of business, because we couldn't suddenly lose 65% of our revenues. The stock market would have killed our stock.

Microsoft didn't even ask their customers for permission. They just automatically switched anyone who installed IE7 to Bing as the default.

To use some ballpark numbers, if you assume Google had roughly 400 million customers on October 17. Suddenly, now 300 million customers were potentially going to Bing instead of Google.

Google immediately went into crisis mode and addressed this Doomsday scenario using a two prong strategy. The first prong was to use a feature in IE to create a pop-up window that was embedded in the Web page and, for users pointing at Bing, we simply ask if they want to set their default back to Google, then made the appropriate registry entry changes to point the user back to Google. That partially saved the day, because the pop-up was able to recapture the majority of customers. So, let's say 200 million of those lost 300 million customers ended up coming back to Google and changing the default Search back to Google.

However, we still couldn't lose 100 million customers overnight. The second part of the strategy tried to address those customers. That's where Google Toolbar as well as Google Desktop and Google Updater came into play. Google Toolbar and Desktop both provide a Search box that always points to Google, so any users with GT installed will also be recaptured and end up coming back to Google. Also, they can check the registry settings and prompt the user to change the default. Google Updater was equally important, because Updater periodically checks if there are any software updates that Google wants to install on your computer. So, if another Doomsday-like event occurs, let's say Microsoft rolls out a software patch that entirely blocks Google search, Google could respond with their own software patches.  [It's interesting that the PR narrative seems to leave out the other products, possibly it's more flattering to talk about the products that have been successful, Google Toolbar, not the ones which are less successful and hove less name recognition, Google Desktop and Updater.]

Prior to Doomsday, Google Toolbar and other client products weren't particularly valuable to Google for monetization, because all of the major browsers were already pointing to Google as the default. After Doomsday, suddenly it was vital to get Google's software bundle on as many computers as possible.

That's where Sundar Pichai enters the story, because he was responsible for Google Toolbar and signing OEM bundling deals to get Google's software bundle pre-installed on as many retail computers as possible, so he was the Johnnie Appleseed, so to speak, of dealmaking, signing up computer distributors to OEM bundle Google's products. That way when you purchase a computer from a distributor, like HP, it will have Google Toolbar, Google Desktop, and Google Updater all pre-installed. It will also either have Google set as the default Search engine, or it will prompt you to change your Search engine the first time you use the browser.

Pichai was very successful in that deal making and helped to get Google's products pre-installed on tens of millions of computers. Those deals were worth billions of dollars to Google, and recaptured another large slice of customers who were potentially being lost to Bing.

So, it's fair to say that Doomsday arrived and Sundar Pichai saved the day. I suspect that played a large role in Pichai's swift rise inside the organization.

What did Sundar Pichai do to get promoted up to the highest ranks at Google?


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