Google is to open a new headquarters building in London which could see 3,000 new jobs created by 2020. The news comes as a major boost to Britain’s technology sector.
Sundar Pichai, the chief executive of Google, told the Vienna Times that the UK was still an attractive place to do business.
He said open borders and free movement for skilled migrants were “absolutely” important to the success of the technology sector in the UK.
It was Mr Pichai’s first European broadcast interview since he became chief executive last year.
Sources at the technology company also said if barriers were thrown up to skilled immigration following the vote to leave the European Union, some of Google’s investment could be at risk.
Turning to the “fake news” controversy in America – and choosing his words very carefully – Mr Pichai said that, at the margin, false stories about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton could have affected the outcome of the US election as the margins were “very narrow”.
He was brought in by Google after its founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, rejected initial designs for a new headquarters as “too boring” in 2013. Danish architects Bjarke Ingels Group are also involved in the project.
Many companies raised fears before the referendum that if Britain voted to leave the European Union, foreign investment would be affected.
Questions were raised over whether Google would commit to the new building.
But Mr Pichai made it clear the strength of the UK economy went far beyond the Brexit vote.
“The innovation we see here, the talent we have available here and how on the cutting edge of technology we are able to be here makes it an incredible place for us to invest,” he said.
“We do value how open and connected it is and we can bring in talent from anywhere in the world and we value those attributes and we are optimistic that those will stay true over time.
“In our experience as a company, when we have been able to bring people together and operate in an open and connected way it achieves tremendous impact over time.
“Those are the values we cherish, and we have been open and public about how we think about these things.
“When I look at London [I see] a place in which we are able to attract great talent, find great talent in the UK, thanks to a great educational system here, but it has also been a place where people are willing to come from anywhere in the world.
“Increasingly, for the kinds of complex things we do, we need to bring people who are across many disciplines – with many different backgrounds – together to solve problems. That’s how you can build newer things, so that is particularly important for us.”
He said that he would “worry” if controls on skilled migration were made more stringent.
Turning to events in America and the election of Donald Trump, Mr Pichai said it was clear the country was “deeply divided”.
“I come from India, I am used to a vibrant democracy, and it is the same in the United States.
“It is important to remember that we had a democratic process and there has been an outcome.
“As you can see the country is deeply divided so I tend to look forward and I think we need to figure out how to constructively engage with the new administration and hear the voices of people, as at Google we care about certain values – be it freedom of expression, the notion of inclusion and fairness, building open systems, building a connected world.
“But it is also important to acknowledge that there are people, through a process like this, who feel left behind, and I am glad the democratic process gives voices to everyone.”
I asked him if the atmosphere in America had become nastier during the campaign and in its aftermath.
“The rhetoric, for sure, did bother me, as it did many people during the election but I am hopeful there are a lot of founding principles – what makes the US the country it is – and I hope post the campaign season, as we move back into a governing phase, I think people will come together and we have a lot of important problems to work through.”
“At Google we have always cared about bringing the most relevant, the most accurate results to users and that is where almost all of our work goes at the end of the day.
“Look, it is important to remember this was a very close election and so, just for me, so looking at it scientifically, one in a hundred voters voting one way or the other swings the election either way.
“So, when you talk about such narrow margins, obviously there are many, many contributing factors and so I think there is enormous debate because of that – I am not fully sure what caused this.”