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Are Google’s Founder-Duo Stepping Down for Good?

While it feels like the end of an era for one of the most powerful companies, Brin and Page say they are “still committed to keeping up with the latest at Alphabet.”

Google

If companies were people, then Google turned 21 only in September – the age when one supposedly casts aside the last trace of teenage and steps into adulthood. In less than three months, its parents, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, announce their exits from top management roles from Alphabet – Google’s parent company.

While handing over the reigns to Sundar Pichai, who will become the CEO of Alphabet in addition to the post as Google boss, the founder duo declared, it was time to “assume the role of proud parents – offering advice and love, but not daily nagging” and insisted there was “no better person” to lead the company into the future than Mr. Pichai.

According to analysts, this change was long overdue. Page and Brin, Alphabet CEO and president respectively, have both been largely absent from the day-to-day operations in recent months. Page, who was called “the most ambitious CEO in the universe, by Fortune magazine a few years ago, is rarely seen in public these days. As noted tech journalist and co-founder of Recode, Kara Swisher said in a tweet, “Larry and Sergey have essentially gone AWOL anyway as their myriad of other interests have diverged from running the business that allowed them to have a myriad of interests.”

Page and Brin wrote a letter about the transition at blog.google that said having Pichai serve as CEO of both Google and Alphabet wouldn’t have any impact on Alphabet, and that it’s “the natural time to simplify our management structure.”

Of challenges and controversies

While Page and Brin may have myriads of other interests now, the creation of Alphabet created in 2015 raised many eyebrows. Some regarded it as an unprecedented new corporate entity at a time when the tech giants in the Silicon Valley were looking at consolidating structures. Alphabet was designed to split Google into its main business, and morphed out from internet search into other crazier areas such as self-driving cars and X lab (formerly the Moonshot factory Google X).

In recent years too, the company has been in the eye of the storm. Despite Google’s censorship in China in 2010, in August last year, a fresh controversy emerged, when investigative website Intercept reported that the company was working on a secret prototype of a new, censored Chinese search engine, called Project Dragonfly. It is known that amid a furor from human rights activists and some Google’s privacy team, from whom the company had kept it a secret; Google was forced to suspend the project. European authorities also fined the company a whopping 1.7 billion USD for antitrust violations early this year.

Some time back, there was a hue and cry on Google tracking user movements with complaints about Android devices and even the iPhone tracking location using applications that access Bluetooth. Reports suggested that a whopping 2 billion users of Android devices were affected by the issue that originally came from usage of Google Maps and the Search – both apps requiring location sharing.

Again, Google was caught in controversies over allowing third parties to listen in to recordings of Google Assistant. While other enterprises such as Apple and Amazon were upfront and apologized, Google was not clear enough on whether snooping will continue or not.

Read more: Google’s Good, Bad and Ugly@21

Yet perhaps most pressing for Google leadership right now is the company’s past and current handling a number of of sexual harassment and other lawsuits. As The Verge reports, “after news broke that both Page and Brin oversaw the approval of a $90 million exit package for disgraced Android co-founder Andy Rubin, who was accused of alleged sexual misconduct by a former employee, employees organized what was at the time the largest internal protest the company had ever seen, called the Google Walkout and involving more than 20,000 employees worldwide.”

What comes to mind is, perhaps Google, steeped in controversies and being in the news for the wrong reasons at present, is becoming too hot to handle for the founder duos – who might have thought quitting is the best escape. As Daniel Ives, an analyst at Wedbush Securities mentioned in a BBC News report that the timing of their departures makes sense though it will raise more questions around the company’s future strategy.”

“It’s the end of an era with Larry leaving the keys to the house with Sundar,” he said, of Page relinquishing his CEO title. “It’s a natural time for Larry and Sergey to leave since the current restructuring of Alphabet, which started four years ago,” he told the news site.

End of an era?

To many in the industry, the move represents a significant shake-up of leadership at Google. For the first time since its inception, a legendary Silicon Valley partnership, stepped down from top management roles in the company they founded. While it feels like the end of an era for one of the most powerful companies of our time, Brin and Page say they are “still committed to keeping up with the latest at Alphabet.”

But hey, hang on! There’s more to the Google story. It’s official blogpost says they were stepping back from the day-to-day management of the company. But it also says, the founders are “actively involved as board members, shareholders and co-founders, but it was the “natural time to simplify our management structure”.

As the Yet while the pair is apparently relinquishing management duties, it won’t mean giving up ultimate power. Between them, they control 51% of voting rights on Alphabet’s board. This won’t change. They likened their new role to being “proud parents” to the company, looking on with close interest and care.

In that case, should they feel the need, they can override any decision Pichai makes. After all, it’s about “parental control”!

Nonetheless, as far as Pichai is involved, Ivan Feinseth, Director of Research at Tigress Financial Partners, said that Pichai is a good choice to take over Alphabet. Under his leadership, the company has been “on the forefront of every key secular tech trend: cloud, mobile, search, advertising, including investing in a lot of emerging technologies.”

Read more: Five Reasons Why Sundar Pichai Was Made Google CEO

The 47-year-old was India-born technocrat, who joined Google in 2004 and slowly and gradually rose to the top rank to now serve as CEO of both companies. As Feinseth said, “It’s always been expected that eventually Pichai would take more and more responsibility,”

In a statement, he said he was “excited” about the transition and paid tribute to Page and Brin. “The founders have given all of us an incredible chance to have an impact on the world. Thanks to them, we have a timeless mission, enduring values, and a culture of collaboration and exploration that makes it exciting to come to work every day… It’s a strong foundation on which we will continue to build. Can’t wait to see where we go next and look forward to continuing the journey with all of you.”

We too are waiting to see how the journey unfolds, Mr. Pichai!

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Sohini Bagchi
Sohini Bagchi is Editor at Trivone Digital, a published author and a storyteller. She can be reached at sohini.bagchi@trivone.com