Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who have mostly stayed out of the spotlight since restructuring their company four years ago, are relinquishing control of parent company Alphabet to current Google CEO Sundar Pichai, the duo announced today in a joint press release. The two men will remain employees of Alphabet and retain their seats on the board, but they will no longer oversee the company’s sprawling, almost trillion-dollar empire they created while at Stanford University more than 20 years ago.
“With Alphabet now well-established, and Google and the Other Bets operating effectively as independent companies, it’s the natural time to simplify our management structure. We’ve never been ones to hold on to management roles when we think there’s a better way to run the company. And Alphabet and Google no longer need two CEOs and a President. Going forward, Sundar will be the CEO of both Google and Alphabet,” Page and Brin wrote.
“He will be the executive responsible and accountable for leading Google, and managing Alphabet’s investment in our portfolio of Other Bets. We are deeply committed to Google and Alphabet for the long term, and will remain actively involved as Board members, shareholders and co-founders. In addition, we plan to continue talking with Sundar regularly, especially on topics we’re passionate about.”
The news, while a shocking development for the course of Google’s future, is not surprising to those who have followed Page and Brin’s careers since 2015. The duo have rarely made public appearances, spoken on investor calls, or shown their faces at product launches or the company’s annual I/O developer conference. Brin, who once sky dived into I/O wearing a prototype pair of the now-defunct Google Glass, was often a showy futurism-loving face of the company’s more experimental efforts, while Page — the acting CEO of Google until Pichai took over — was the overall executive face. Both effectively disappeared from public view, however, after the company was restructured.
The creation of Alphabet was controversial in 2015, marking an unprecedented new corporate structure for Silicon Valley at a time when the tech giants were amassing huge power and consolidating industries. Alphabet was designed to split Google into its main business, which includes its search engine and nearly a dozen other massive products, and the other disparate arms of the company, like its X lab (formerly the Moonshot factory Google X) and now its self-driving unit Waymo. But the creation of Alphabet also gave Page and Brin carte blanche to fade from the limelight and let Pichai take the reins.
Pichai has gone on to grow Google into an even larger facet of daily online life, overseeing the launch of the Pixel brand and Google’s other hardware efforts in addition to the company’s immense investments in artificial intelligence and cloud computing. Since the creation of Alphabet, the company’s stock price has more than doubled, as has the company’s revenue. In its first quarterly earnings report since Alphabet’s formation, the company reported sales of $18.7 billion. In its most recent quarterly earnings report, Alphabet reported sales of more than $36.3 billion.
But Page and Brin also handed the CEO title to Pichai at a time of increasing scrutiny of Big Tech, and Google and its YouTube subsidiary have faced a severe series of controversies since the company’s co-founders stepped back. Similar to fellow Big Tech companies Amazon and Facebook, the last four years have been arguably the most contentious in Google’s history as an activist coalition of employees have arisen within the company to fight for change and lawmakers, activists, and regulators have sought to check Google’s power from the outside.
As a result, Pichai has become the face of the company’s efforts to weather those storms, including high-profile incidents like the firing of diversity critic James Damore and, more recently, the company’s involvement in a Department of Defense drone project and its plans (now reportedly on ice) to launch a search product for the Chinese market. Pichai and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki have also had to answer for the video platform’s own set of controversies, ranging from child exploitation and radicalization content running wild on the platform to moderation and speech issues over who gets to stay on YouTube and to what effect.