In a move that marks the end of an era, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who co-founded Google in 1998, are stepping down from their executive roles at Alphabet. Page and Brin, both Stanford graduates, have been two of the technology industry’s most influential figures, considered on a par with Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Apple founder Steve Jobs.
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Pichai, 47, has been the face of the tech giant as CEO of the main business since 2015. He takes charge of Alphabet at a challenging time, as it faces increased regulatory scrutiny of large digital companies and internal employee unrest, while battling to stay at the forefront of technological change. Pichai’s elevation was announced after market hours on Tuesday in the US, with Page giving up his role as Alphabet CEO and Brin quitting as president.
Google sits on a cash pile of $128 billion, second only to Microsoft’s $137 billion, as per Factset. But Brin and Page, who are each worth over $50 billion, have stayed away from most of the day-today management and public appearances, including internal all-hands meetings, for the last few years.
“Today, in 2019, if the company was a person, it would be a young adult of 21 and it would be time to leave the roost. While it has been a tremendous privilege to be deeply involved in the day-to-day management of the company for so long, we believe it’s time to assume the role of proud parents—offering advice and love, but not daily nagging!” wrote Page and Brin in a letter to Alphabet employees on Tuesday. The move is driven to “simplify our management structure”, they wrote, adding that “Sundar brings humility and a deep passion for technology to our users, partners and our employees every day…There is no one that we have relied on more since Alphabet was founded, and no better person to lead Google and Alphabet into the future.”
Pichai tweeted that he was “excited about his new role”. He also wrote to employees, “In my 15+ years with Google, the only constant I’ve seen is change….. I first met Larry and Sergey back in 2004 and have been benefiting from their guidance and insights ever since. The good news is I’ll continue to work with them — although in different roles for them and me.”
Pichai, an alumnus of IIT-Kharagpur, who also holds an MS from Stanford and MBA from Wharton, joined Google in 2004 and worked on the development of the Chrome browser, Gmail and Google Maps. In 2013, he started overseeing Android, the operating system for smartphones. In 2014, Pichai was also considered a contender for the CEO role at Microsoft, which went to another Indian origin executive, Satya Nadella. He was named Google’s CEO in August 2015, when the company announced its restructuring, and joined Alphabet’s board 2017.
Since Pichai became Google CEO, the share price of the company has doubled, giving it a market capitalisation of $894 billion at the close of trade on Tuesday. Besides leading revenue growth and product development, Pichai has also faced a regulatory backlash against tech on issues like privacy and political bias in the US including testimony to the US Congress in December 2018.
Pichai has been able to take Google — which was already a big business at revenues of $18.5 billion during the September 2015 quarter when he took over – and make it huge, at over $40.3 billion in the September 2019 quarter, a span of five years.
As CEO of Alphabet, Pichai will now be in charge of multiple such businesses which can potentially be worth hundreds of billions of dollars, according to Rajan Anandan, who was the India and Southeast Asia CEO of Google for about a decade till earlier this year. “Sundar has a very unique combination of several things that make him an extraordinary leader — vision, team building, execution, humility and also the ability to make a deep connection with individuals,” said Anandan, adding that Sundar’s ability to stay calm, be thoughtful and “not get frazzled” makes him the perfect leader as Alphabet faces regulatory and policy headwinds.
Even as Page and Brin leave management roles at Alphabet, they will continue to hold voting shares of over 50% in the company giving them a say in any major decisions.