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On Mission Mode

India is getting to play a more impactful role for Google
twitter-logo E Kumar Sharma   New Delhi     Print Edition: April 5, 2020
On Mission Mode
Photograph by Reuben Singh

Google's mission statement has attained adulthood. Back in 1998, when two young founders - Larry Page and Sergey Brin - drafted it, the choice of words with an apparent all-time relevance, continues to enthuse its leaders even today. No, back then too, it did not say "search" but opted instead for a call to organise the "world's information" and to make it "universally accessible and useful."

Today, in an era of information overload, that written goal seems to have acquired an all-new relevance. A good reason perhaps that Anand Rangarajan, Site Lead for Google in Bengaluru and Engineering Director in Search, who joined the company a decade later and moved to India seven years ago, says: "When I look at all the projects, it is amazing how true that mission is today."

And, in this journey, India is beginning to play an increasingly important role. From a small team that met the two founders on their India visit in 2004, Google India has yet again retained its top position in the Business Today's Best Companies to Work For list. Rangarajan says there are several reasons why Google remains an attractive destination for talent.

The three areas that India makes an impact for Google are payments, maps and search. "Google Pay, which did not exist few years ago, has been a huge success with users. This is a product built in India. Of course, timing, too, helped. Google Pay has grown from 22 million MAUs (monthly active users) in September 2018 to 67 million MAUs in September 2019, driving transactions worth over $110 billion on an annualised basis, with hundreds of thousands of offline and online merchants. The success of Google Pay is a huge vindication that you can do amazing products from India," says Rangarajan.

New Attractions

The success of Uber and Ola shows the impact of maps business here. Even in Search, too, he says, the entire gambit of "the Search, the Assistant and Discover feeds have important contribution from India, for India". But that alone is not keeping thousands of Googlers in India (no, they do not share the exact number) across four locations or continuing to attract more talent.

Now there is a new attraction. "The AI (Artificial Intelligence) lab we have created in Bengaluru does explorative research into specific problems. We have published our work on diabetic retinopathy which we are operationalising in some parts of India. We are looking at other problems. That gives you a sense of how India is contributing. We are looking at big problems closely," says Rangarajan.


New Initiatives

  • Google Pay has grown from 22 million MAUs in September 2018 to 67 million MAUs in September 2019, driving transactions worth over $110 billion on an annualised basis, with hundreds of thousands of offline and online merchants
  • With Google Station - a partnership with Railtel and Indian Railways, able to make fast, reliable and secure WiFi available across 400 train stations (May 2019)
  • Google Assistant expanded to nine Indian languages
  • With Bolo - a speech-based app that helps children learn how to read, around 800,000 young Indians have read stories more than three million times, and have spoken half a billion words
  • Has the girth to drive new growth: With few thousand employees spread across four locations in India
  • Artificial Intelligence lab, created in Bengaluru, is first explorative research into specific problems. It has already published work on diabetic retinopathy and now looking to other ailments
  • One of the unfinished agenda: Get more senior leaders (vice president and above) moving from other parts of the world to Bengaluru (read: India) to lead larger projects. The idea being to see people move to India, not just because they have friends and relatives here but to be able to do world-class work from here.

If Google till yesterday was about bean bags and free food in popular perception, Jayashri Ramamurti, People Partner for Tech, Google India, will tell you how connect with talent runs much deeper. Ramamurti, who has been with Google for over 13 years and worked in Hyderabad, Gurgaon and Bengaluru offices, has seen things closely. Pointing to new initiatives that were taken in the last year or two, she says: "Last year we started a manager circle - an optional once-in-a-month meeting of managers - with the idea that there is a lot of peer-to-peer learning that happens. For these, managers themselves pick up themes and topics through this platform to meet and exchange ideas." Then there is G-2-G (Googler to Googler), launched earlier but gained traction last year. The idea is to get Googlers to share their knowledge in areas they are experts in. It need not be related to their work. Last year, there was one session on mindfulness.

Driven by the need for an enabling environment where employees could "bring their whole self to work", she talks of measures that address the concerns of not just Googlers but also their families. "This is about letting Googlers have the option to get second opinion from a panel of doctors from across the world in case of need." The list of other initiatives is long and across segments - from engaging with external community; about women and getting back those who after dropping out want to return.

Economic Slowdown Scenario

Given that most companies have had the complaint of pain in dealing with the economic slowdown, the question for Ramamurti was how the company rewards its high performers without demotivating those who have not. While externally there is a slowdown, she says Google India has seen a big growth phase in the last 12 to 18 months. But then, to handle this, she points to the company's performance management systems that continue to be quite robust and is about getting a well rounded and across-the-board feedback. In fact, she says, those, who feel strongly about what they have done, could even self-nominate themselves for a promotion.

Despite all the care and caution, one Google employee, who did not wish to be quoted, pointed out that the company despite all the bells and whistles, did not have creche facilities. That apparently has changed and the task has been outsourced to select players. "We do have tie-ups and we work through a tie-up model. But that is something we are constantly looking at," says Ramamurti. So, why did it opt for this route? "It was the fastest way to extend day-care facility following a government mandate, and in the shortest possible time be compliant and also deliver value to a Googler. But this may change over time," she explains.

So, what is it that Google India employees would like to see done this year? Rangarajan is very clear: "One thing, which is still work-in-progress, is that we want to see more senior leaders (vice president and above) moving from other parts of the world to Bengaluru to lead larger projects. We have an internal mobility programme where we encourage people to move, but people now need to start seeing that India is a great place to go to grow. I would love to see a point where people are choosing to come to India, not because they have friends and relatives here but to be able to do world class work from here and not just for India."

@EKumarSharma

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