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Meet Google's Sundar Pichai: The exec who now runs Android

March 13, 2013|By Jessica Guynn
  • Google executive Sundar Pichai is taking over for Andy Rubin as head of Google's Android mobile operating system.
Google executive Sundar Pichai is taking over for Andy Rubin as head of Google's… (David Paul Morris / Bloomberg )

SAN FRANCISCO -- The joke quickly made the rounds of Twitter: Top Google Inc. executive Sundar Pichai had been elected pope –- of Android.

There were no puffs of white smoke as there were for Pope Francis, just a blog post Wednesday from Google co-founder and Chief Executive Larry Page announcing a major changing of the guard at the Internet giant. 

Pichai had been tapped to run the world's most popular mobile operating system. He is taking over from Andy Rubin, who has stepped down as head of Android. Pichai's new job -- making sure nothing slows Android's momentum -- has thrust him into the spotlight.

"I know Sundar will do a tremendous job doubling down on Android as we work to push the ecosystem forward," Page said in the post.

Pichai's ascension comes at a crucial time for Android. Its growth has begun to flatten, and Google executives have begun to worry about Samsung Electronics Co.'s dominance of Android. The South Korean company sells about 40% of the gadgets that use Android software and is about to unveil the highly anticipated Galaxy S4.

Some see Pichai's takeover of Android as a signal that Google wants to coordinate or merge its two operating systems: Chrome and Android. Pichai is also the senior vice president of Chrome.

Pichai has turned the Chrome browser into a breakout success, giving Internet Explorer and Firefox a real run for their money.

"In 2008, people asked whether the world really needed another browser. Today Chrome has hundreds of millions of happy users and is growing fast, thanks to its speed, simplicity and security," Page wrote.

Under Pichai, the Chrome operating system has found its way into products such as the Chromebook Pixel.

"Sundar has a talent for creating products that are technically excellent yet easy to use — and he loves a big bet," Page said.

Pichai made his bet on Google when he joined the company in 2004. He had worked at Applied Materials and McKinsey & Co. He got his bachelor's degree in technology from the Indian Institute of Technology, a master's degree in science from Stanford University and a master of business administration degree from Wharton.

He gained more visibility in 2011 when Twitter tried to poach him to lead product. Pichai decided to stay with Google.

BGC Partners analyst Colin Gillis said Pichai has a weighty responsibility.

"He had better not screw it up," Gillis said. "Android is a big success right now."

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