Sundar Pichai is taking over Google parent company Alphabet at a pivotal moment. Here are the key challenges he faces. (GOOG)

sundar pichai google ceo

  • Google CEO Sundar Pichai is now becoming CEO of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, as well.
  • His promotion comes at a pivotal moment for the $893 billion company.
  • Alphabet faces an array of challenges, from ongoing employee unrest to mounting political and regulatory scrutiny.
  • And Pichai will also have to ensure that its booming business continues to grow and please investors.
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Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, is now officially becoming the CEO of the search giant’s parent company, Alphabet, as well — and he does so at a pivotal moment for the company.

The $893 billion tech giant’s business is booming: Revenues are trending upwards, and its stock is hovering around all-time highs. But it also faces unprecedented regulatory scrutiny and employee revolts from within — placing Pichai in a precarious position as he attempts to navigate the company’s next chapter.

A long-time Google employee, and CEO since 2015, Pichai has faced many of these challenges before. But as he ascends to the top job in Alphabet, the pressure on him will be greater than ever before. 

The disparity between Alphabet’s roaring business and the existential threats it faces is shared by rivals Facebook and Amazon, and reflects a new reality for tech companies: The money has never been better, but there are dark storm clouds on the horizon.

The company is increasingly in the political firing line. Critics of big tech, notably US presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren, are calling for Alphabet and other tech firms to be broken up on antitrust grounds. And ongoing debate about Section 230, the US law that helps shield tech firms from liability for objectionable content on their platforms, could produce major hurdles for Google and Alphabet if more serious attempts were made to amend of repeal it.

“From a regulatory and government point of view, a lot of scrutiny that the company is facing, not only in the US but a lot of overseas markets, will continue to be a challenge to navigate, and [to] not let that significantly affect the business,” said David Heger, an analyst with Edward Jones.

Internally, Google has been wracked over the past two years by sometimes paralyzing internal protests and employee dissent, over myriad different issues — from Google’s work with the US military to the company’s payouts to executives accused of sexual misconduct. Amid constant leaks and employee activism, the company has now clamped down on its famous culture of transparency, presenting a potential threat to its legendary reputation as a great place to work.

Google-owned YouTube is also coming under greater and greater pressure. Facebook has borne the brunt of criticism over content moderation issues in recent years, but the focus has since widened to platforms like YouTube, and its ongoing struggle to police itself for objectionable or illegal content while avoiding perceptions of bias could yields years negative media and political scrutiny for the video-sharing service.

Meanwhile, some of Alphabet’s other bets are starting to grow up at the exact moment Pichai must take responsibility for them. Waymo, its self-driving car unit, has been valued at more than $100 billion, and is well-positioned to be a market leader when self-driving cars hit city streets in earnest over the next decade or so — but only so long as Pichai is able to successfully steer it to a point of technological and commercial viability. Pichai will also be charged with making sense of Alphabet’s other, more esoteric development areas, like nascent drone delivery service Wing or smart city firm Sidewalk Labs.

Finally — and perhaps most importantly — Pichai must ensure that the company’s core business continues to fire on all cylinders, and deliver the healthy growth Wall Street has become accustomed to. “Just continuing the growth engines that the company has done a very good job of,” said Heger. “It’s going to be a continuing process of how to maintain that lead they have … and continue to monetize things like YouTube.”

As it currently stands, industry watchers are optimistic about the 47-year-old tech exec. His appointment is “a natural progression of the company’s evolution,” said Ivan Feinseth, chief investment officer at Tigress Financial Partners. “The guy’s done a great job so far … Google’s on the forefront of every secular technology trend.”

Now, Sundar Pichai just needs to make sure it stays there.

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