What Google really expects out of Sundar Pichai
The Chennai born IITian's elevation as the CEO of the tech behemoth has a clear mandate: to do more with less.
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When Google co-founder Larry Page announced through his blog that Sundar Pichai would lead a "slightly slimmed down" Google, he was not referring to the company doing less of what it used to. The mandate for Pichai seems to be to do more with less. With its challenging but fascinating long term projects on healthcare (such as developing contact lenses that measure glucose in the tears of those with diabetes and research on products to aid longevity) and drone delivery venture moved out of Google to a holding firm Alphabet, the focus for Google on its core products - Web Search, Google Maps, YouTube, Chrome, and Android - has become sharper. Growing these businesses needs new ideas and disciplined execution. Observe closely the words Page has chosen to describe Pichai’s role: "Google itself is also making all sorts of new products, and I know Sundar will always be focused on innovation - continuing to stretch boundaries." That’s very close to saying that the focus would be on what is called "frugal innovation", the art of getting more things done on less resources, by deploying these resources wisely. And what better way to implement frugal innovation than have an India-born professional at the helm?
Frugal innovation may not be a term that Western professionals can easily associate themselves with, but India is widely seen as an appropriate playground for making it happen. Considering that there is a huge awakening in global businesses to embrace disruptive technology, global firms are looking at India and Indians for frugal ideas, made possible in this country where companies constantly work against constraints in resources. When auto majors Renault and Nissan decided to go in for products that can address mass markets, Carlos Ghosn, who is Chairman and CEO of both the firms, turned to India and its frugal and innovative engineering. Renault had a false start with its much-hyped tie up with Mahindra & Mahindra, but is on course to make its indigenous small car "Kwid", seen as a rival to Maruti Alto, commercially available during the upcoming festive season.
Pichai has said in a media interview that Google might be experimenting with ideas that seem "crazy", but there is a method in the madness. For instance, its Project Loon experiments with high-altitude balloons that fly over remote and rural areas to provide internet access. Pichai says such projects have been thought-out akin to businesses, and are conducted in a very disciplined fashion. Google’s focus is going to be on two broad areas - to find solutions to big problems on the one side, and to help organise chaotic information on the mobile, on the other. Both these require an equal measure of "craziness" in ideas, but also discipline to rein in costs while doing so, and bind product development to reasonable timelines, including a future commercial launch. That’s the challenge that the Chennai-born techie has before him. Pichai could draw on the strengths of his motherland and leverage the skill of its youth to benefit his company in its drive to innovate better.