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Meet Kerala-born Thomas Kurian, brain behind Google’s cloud computing success

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Industry watchers say if Google Cloud's turnaround story continues, Kurian’s ascent as Google's next CEO will get cemented.

Meet Kerala-born Thomas Kurian, brain behind Google’s cloud computing success
Kerala-born Thomas Kurian is being hailed as the brain behind Google Cloud's turnaround story. Kurian took charge of Google's cloud business -- replacing Diane Greene -- in November 2018 much to the surprise of the team members. He came from Oracle Corporation, which has a different culture compared to Google. However, the turnaround story of Google Cloud over the last three years, while competing against two giants Microsoft and Amazon, has allayed all apprehensions about Kurian’s leadership.
In his over three decades of journey with top American companies, Kurian has proved his mettle. He was overseeing development of around 3,000 products of Oracle as its president, product development. He was the fifth highest paid tech executive in the United States in 2010.
Early Days
Thomas Kurian, born in Kottayam district of Kerala, moved to the US with his identical twin George in 1986 after getting a scholarship from Princeton University. After graduating from Princeton in electrical engineering he started his career with McKinsey and Company as a consultant. After serving McKinsey for six years in London and Brussels, he moved to Oracle.
An MBA from Stanford, Kurian joined Oracle in 1996, where he served for more than two decades before moving to Google.
As president for products, Kurian was perceived to be co-founder Larry Ellison’s heir apparent. He supervised groups building Oracle's cloud computing software. He resigned in September 2018 after frequent clashes with Ellison over the strategic growth approach, as per reports.
The Turnaround Story
According to Bloomberg, under Kurian’s leadership, Google Cloud's revenue has more than doubled and it is growing at a quicker pace than its parent company, Alphabet Inc.
Google Cloud is adding new resources, while other divisions are struggling. Kurian's team now comprises 37,000 personnel, which is nearly 50 percent more than what it was when he took over (25,000). He is said to have hired key personnel from peers and also from startups.
Kurian has been credited with digressing from Google's erstwhile engineering and technology mindset approach. Earlier, clients only used Google Cloud for specific needs in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine Learning (ML). And it lagged behind Amazon (Web Services) and Microsoft (Azure).
Google Cloud lost $5.6 billion in 2020 and $974 million in Q1 FY2021 while Amazon Web Services posted profit of $4.16 billion, according to Bloomberg.
Under Kurian’s leadership, Google Cloud has increased its market share by 2 percent (9 percent) vis-à-vis Microsoft (which grew to 20 percent) and Amazon Web Services (around 33 percent).
In fact, industry watchers say that if Google Cloud moves into second or first place, then Kurian’s ascent as CEO of Google will get cemented.
Kurian, who learnt his lessons from enterprise wars in India and the Silicon Valley, showcased a pro-sales customer-centric soft style approach. He looked for strategic client partnerships rather than a project-based transaction-driven approach. He explored bundling of offers along with a combination of packages and customised holistic solutions to help clients grow their businesses.
Kurian also prioritised strengthening Google Cloud's rankings in the database and analytics business, which was a stronghold for Oracle. He made it easier for banks to store their data on Google Cloud while adhering to compliance regulations.
Kurian’s Management Style
In terms of management style, Kurian is said to have slowly imbibed Google's work culture aspects such as play at work. Eventually, he stopped ‘taking the case’ of erring team members in public and this was more pronounced during the pandemic. He is now heard narrating funny anecdotes, including those about his twin brother and him impersonating each other. Kurian seems to be a new man, transformed from his days at Oracle and now he has a second shot at leading big tech.