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Microsoft’s Sundar Pichai is No. 7 on the Recode 100.

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Sundar Pichai is keeping Google’s real business cranking while it figures out the ‘AI-first’ future

Pichai is No. 7 on the Recode 100.

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Silicon Valley loves to talk about what’s next. So when you talk about Google, you want to talk about self-driving cars and self-contained cities and balloons that beam the internet down to the desert.

Guess what fuels all of that stuff? Advertising, the same stuff that has always fueled Google. More specifically: Search ads, a business we’ve been hearing about for nearly two decades.

But here’s the thing. The search business — even on desktop machines — is still growing, which means it is still powering’s Google phenomenal business, which is why Google is going to generate a staggering $89 billion in revenue this year.

And to pound this into the ground: Google, as big as it is, is still posting double-digit growth numbers: This year’s third-quarter revenue was up a mind-boggling 24 percent. Add in Android, the world’s dominant mobile platform, and YouTube, the world’s biggest video platform — by a very long shot — and yeah.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai runs a really important company whose reach and dominance are so pervasive we take it for granted.

What about Pichai himself? If you want to give him a demerit, you can say that his company has been slow to react to the abuse of its platform by Russia and other actors with bad intent. You can also argue that his company’s overwhelming size itself is part of a coming backlash from politicians and regulators (though Google has heard about this threat for some time and it has yet to materialize in a meaningful way).

But what he mostly is is low-profile — a massively powerful tech CEO who seems less interested in the stage time that other tech CEOs use to their advantage.

This summer Pichai popped up briefly, to weigh in on the controversial memo that got Google engineer James Damore canned. And you can occasionally see him at public events. But if you can’t remember what he said at those events — or even what he looks like — it’s hard to imagine he’s upset with that.

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