“We are very excited to be part of India’s growth story,” says Pichai.
Sundar Pichai, the Indian American chief executive of internet giant Google, added another feather to his illustrious cap when he was conferred with the Global Leadership Award at the India Ideas Summit and 44th Annual Meeting of the US-India Business Council (USIBC).
Elucidating his views on leadership in an armchair conversation with USIBC president Nisha Biswal, the 46-year-old head of the California-based search engine company affirmed, “Leadership, more often than not, is about taking a backseat”. If you are in the upper echelons and in a meeting, “it’s tough actually to understand what’s going on, so speaking as less as possible” and listening more was his sound advice. “Being tough is important, but equally important is being compassionate,” he said.
While acknowledging that there is no single model of leadership, Pichai espoused the importance of valuing people, “empowering them, cheering when people around you do well, getting out of the way when you can. Your job is to stay out of the way, but help them to remove obstacles which are standing in the way of them doing well and succeeding,” he said.
About the technology behemoth which he leads, Pichai stated, “Our mission is to help people, provide information and knowledge. It is a fundamental human need.
You see it in places like India when people get access to technology for the first time. We are working hard to help people gain more knowledge about the world around them.”
During the course of the conversation on ‘Ushering in a Connected Future: Technology, Innovation, and Inclusion’, Biswal queried him about the significance of the Indian market noting, “Google has invested very deeply in India.”
“Google has been in India for a very long time”, Pichai responded. “We are very excited to be part of India’s growth story. The Indian government has done a great job making technology one of the pillars by which it will improve governance, socio-economic conditions. We have been proud to be a part of it,” he emphasized.
Referring to the company’s contributions to the ‘Make in India’ program, he pointed out that “Android (which is owned by Google) literally powers all phones in India. We deeply care about making phones cheaper every year so that more people can afford” and access them, he said. “In 2004, there were maybe two local Indian manufacturers who would make devices made in India; now that number is well over 200. Our products have played a foundational role,” he stated.
“But, increasingly, it’s also happening in reverse. The scale of the Indian market allows us to now develop the products there and take it out globally as well”, he said citing the success with digital payments.
“India was moving towards digital payments. We thought it was the best market to push the future of payments. We tried it there and it’s worked very well. And now that team is taking that payments product and bringing it out of India to the global market. So, increasingly, we see India not just as an opportunity, but you know building in India and serving the rest of the world as well.”
On the issue of global privacy, Pichai believed “India and the US can lead on the standardization of privacy frameworks to ensure the free flow of digital trade.” He told the USIBC gathering, “The free flow of information is essential for digital trade and we have all seen the benefits of it.”
But, the technology executive acknowledged, “We need better safeguards around user privacy. Rightfully so, users are increasingly concerned about their privacy”, he said recommending the creation of standardized frameworks both for users to have choice and total transparency and for companies to be accountable.
The two-day USIBC summit drew over 350 Indian and American business leaders, and high-ranking government officials of the world’s oldest and largest democracies to the US Chamber of Commerce located directly across Lafayette Park from the White House. Together with Pichai, a Global Leadership Award was conferred on Adena Friedman, President and CEO of Nasdaq.
Biswal pointed out that the theme of the conference is about connecting the US-India corridor, connecting cities and states. “You, in many ways, embody the journey that we are spotlighting”, she told Google’s chief executive asking him to share insights of his journey from Chennai to California.
Pichai recalled how he grew up in the south Indian city in a family of modest means. “But, I was privileged to have a culture of knowledge”, he said crediting his parents for their efforts and encouragement in this regard. “I was passionate about technology growing up”, he recounted. “I didn’t have access to computing, but I read everything I could on it. When I came to the US to Stanford in 1993, it was the first time I flew on a plane.”
He landed in Pittsburgh from where he made his way to California “about the time that the internet was taking off. It was the first time I truly had access to computing and I can see how it changed my life”, Pichai told the USIBC audience. “I still carry that with me today – that power of technology to impact positively. You see that in the US and increasingly in India as well”, he said.
A light-hearted moment came when Biswal broached the ICC Cricket World Cup, underway in the UK, with Pichai who admitted he is “a passionate cricket fan. When I came here I tried to adapt to baseball and I must say it was a bit challenging”, he said adding, “I am going to stick to cricket.”
He believed India and England would emerge as the winners, albeit conceded that Australia and New Zealand are very good teams. “I am rooting for India to do well. But, there is a lot at stake,” he said.