Criticism is Mounting Over Sundar Pichai’s Stumbles as Google CEO

"At any other company, investors would ask for the CEO's head," wrote tech blogger Om Malik.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai
Sundar Pichai has been the CEO of Google since 2015 and Alphabet since 2019. Mateusz Wlodarczyk/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Massive layoffs, a sharp drop in stock price and an embarrassing gaffe when showing off its latest artificial intelligence project have led some of Silicon Valley’s opinion leaders to call for the ouster of Google (GOOGL) CEO Sundar Pichai, who also heads Alphabet (GOOGL), Google’s parent company.

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Pichai is too risk averse and not the right person to lead Google through growing challenges posed by Microsoft (MSFT) and other tech companies, wrote Om Malik, a venture capitalist and an influential tech writer, in a recent blog post.

In a Twitter poll Malik started before his article was published, roughly half of the 170 participants agreed with him and said Pichai should step down. Malik is a partner at True Ventures, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm, and the author of tech newsletter “A Letter From Om.” Malik doesn’t directly own any Alphabet shares.

Skepticism over Pichai’s leadership rose after Google made a very public mistake last week when unveiling Bard, its answer to ChatGPT. During a demo, the chatbot gave a factually incorrect answer to a question about the James Webb Space Telescope.

“I am just gobsmacked that Google executives didn’t catch the errors beforehand, which showed that the Bard presentation and the launch had been stitched together in haste,” Malik wrote in the blog post. “At any other company, investors would ask for the CEO’s head.”

Google’s stock fell more than 12 percent in the days following the disastrous Bard demo, erasing more than $100 billion in the company’s market capitalization.

Pichai also faced criticism from his own employees, who said on Google’s internal discussion forum the Bard project was “rushed, botched and un-Googley,” CNBC reported.

Pichai’s trouble runs deeper a chatbot, Malik said. “I don’t quite know how to rate Sundar, but on his watch there haven’t been any real new products over the past few years,” he said in an email. “His handpicked leaders for cloud have not delivered. The hardware division should have been doing much better. The much vaunted and hyped Duplex, a voice assistant that would have allowed people to use Google Voice to make restaurant reservations, has been a flop.”

Google has “been making tactical errors for years,” tweeted John Coogan, a tech YouTuber with 260,000 subscribers. He pointed to the company abandoning lucrative defense projects in part because of employee protests.

Pichai, a former product manager at Google, took over the company from its cofounder Larry Page in 2015 at the completion of the formation of Alphabet, which owns Google, YouTube and a few other smaller tech subsidiaries. Pichai was appointed CEO of Alphabet in December 2019 following the retirement of Sergey Brin, Google’s other cofounder.

Microsoft’s ChatGPT investment is a sniper attack at Google

In the wake of ChatGPT’s wild popularity, Pichai in late December reportedly declared a “code red” within the company and, in a rush to put together a competing product, he asked Brin to review the company’s code library for the first time in years, according to Forbes.

“Google is so beholden to its search advertising model and that is why it’s vulnerable to sniper attacks from Microsoft which has nothing to lose with undermining the economics of Google’s search business,” Malik said in the email.

Microsoft is an early investor in OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT. In January, the tech giant followed up with a $10 billion, multiyear investment in OpenAI that included incorporating ChatGPT’s core language training algorithms into Microsoft’s Bing search engine.

Asked who would be a better CEO than Pichai, Malik said it’s a tough pick but YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki could be a strong candidate. “[She] has been successful in defending and helping YouTube survive the Facebook, IG & TikTok challenge, at least for now,” he said.

The potential return of Larry Page may also make a difference, Malik suggested in a tweet on Feb. 12.

Update: This article has been updated with more information about Google’s voice assistant, Duplex, in the 8th paragraph.

Criticism is Mounting Over Sundar Pichai’s Stumbles as Google CEO