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Google CEO Sundar Pichai faces a critical test of his leadership today

  • Google CEO Sundar Pichai must calm and unite a workforce now divided by its views on diversity
  • Pichai will lead an all-hands meeting instead of going on vacation.
  • The meeting takes place even as the company faces serious legal, regulatory and competitive threats around the globe
Sundar Pichai
Bloomberg | Getty Images
Sundar Pichai

Google CEO Sundar Pichai faces an all-hands meeting on Thursday afternoon that could come to define his leadership of the Alphabet unit.

Two years into his tenure in the top post and after 13 years of service at Google, Pichai must calm and unite a workforce divided over the firing of former engineer James Damore.

Damore lost his job of 3 1/2 years after criticizing the company's diversity-building efforts in a memo that also contained sexist comments.

Pichai made the decision to fire Damore even while crediting him with raising important issues.

Damore's memo is so radioactive that it reportedly even divided the ranks of top executives who report directly to Pichai.

The fact that Pichai has elevated the discussion to a company-wide forum -- and has cut short a planned vacation to lead the meeting -- indicates how seriously he takes the decision to fire one worker out of tens of thousands.

That's especially the case because the CEO has a lot on his plate that has nothing to do with the diversity of the company's workforce:

    Given the company's agenda, Pichai could have used a vacation.

    But he didn't get the one he was expecting.

    All-hands meetings at the company are usually brutally frank, Alphabet Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat said in May.

    Whether cutting short his time off -- along with that of other Google executives who were supposed to be on vacation this week -- turns out to be worth it will depend on how well he can unite the company's global workforce later today.