Who is Sundar Pichai? Google's AI blunders prompt calls for leadership change

 (Manu Fernandez/AP)
(Manu Fernandez/AP)

Google CEO Sundar Pichai is facing calls to resign after recent AI blunders at the tech company.

The 51-year-old business executive, originally hailing from India, came under fire after the company was forced to pause its Gemini AI image generator for creating historically inaccurate images.

Several analysts have since voiced their opinions about Pichai’s position, prompting a wave of reports that questioned the future of the CEO’s role.

Author of the Stratechery newsletter, Ben Thompson wrote that Google needed a “transformation” and this “must mean removing those who let the former run amok, up to and including CEO Sundar Pichai”.

After Google’s flagship AI chatbot (formerly known as Bard) started displaying errors in its image generation, Pichai also apologised.

“I know that some of its responses have offended our users and shown bias – to be clear, that’s completely unacceptable and we got it wrong,” Pichai said in a memo.

He added that the Google team was working “around the clock” to resolve the issues.

 (Jeff Chiu/AP)
(Jeff Chiu/AP)

Who is Sundar Pichai?

Sundar Pichai is the current CEO of Google and its parent company, Alphabet.

He’s thought to be one of the world’s highest-earning CEOs, reportedly earning an annual salary of over $200m.

Pichai comes from humble beginnings and reportedly grew up in a two-bedroom house with his family in Chennai, India.

He was known then as Pichai Sundararajan. After displaying a clear talent for technology and numbers, he went to study engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur.

Sundar eventually moved to the US, where he continued his studies at Stanford and Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

He went on to work at Applied Materials and McKinsey before landing a dream interview at Google, which he attended on April Fool’s Day in 2004.

Reflecting on his interview, Pichai said that he was unsure whether some of the questions were April Fool’s jokes and that he was quizzed on new features, such as Gmail.

"In the fourth interview, when somebody asked me, 'have you seen Gmail?' I said no, and then he showed it to me," Pichai told students at his old university. "So in the fifth interview, I told them about what I think of Gmail, how to improve Gmail."

Sundar Pichai (Getty Images)
Sundar Pichai (Getty Images)

How long has Sundar Pichai worked for Google?

Of course, Pichai’s interview went well, and in 2004, he joined Google as the vice president of product management.

Throughout the last 20 years, Pichai has supported teams developing Google Chrome and other products like Firefox and Android. Pichai also quickly ascended through the ranks at Google, and was considered a well-liked member of the technology company’s leadership team.

He was so popular that Twitter even reportedly tried to poach him with a lucrative job offer, however, he declined the offer and stayed loyal to Google.

In 2015, Pichai was chosen to fill the newly vacant role of CEO at Google.

Throughout his time as CEO, Google’s shareholder value has grown dramatically, and the company’s market cap currently stands at $1.66 trillion.

While there are clear signs of success thanks to his leadership, he’s also faced some challenges along the way.

Pichai was criticised for accepting a pay package of around $226 million in 2022 despite Google cutting 12,000 jobs. According to an internal memo circulated in January 2024, more layoffs have also been confirmed for this year.

Google’s AI debacle has similarly raised eyebrows after the AI generator created ‘offensive’ images that weren’t historically accurate.

Will Sundar Pichai resign?

A lot of speculation is currently circling about the future of Pichai’s role at Google and Alphabet.

“He has lost the culture. As a result, I think it's likely he'll lose his job,” Inc Magazine’s tech columnist wrote. The Verge similarly said that Google was undergoing a “morale crisis”.

In competition with other AI leaders such as ChatGPT, Gemini’s recent blunders appear to suggest that not everything is going to plan at Google HQ, and they’re trying to rush out products to maintain their edge.

So far, Pichai has said nothing publicly about the future of his position, suggesting he intends to weather the storm.