Co-founders of the internet giant Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, have stepped down from their executive positions at Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company, that does ambitious research projects, including artificial intelligence and driverless vehicles.
Page, chief executive and Brin, president of Alphabet, said on 3 December they would hand control to Sundar Pichai, Google’s existing CEO. He will lead Alphabet as well, and will have to tackle global regulatory threats as well as employee discontent.
“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”, Page and Brin wrote in a blog post. “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”.
Page and Brin, both 46, met in 1995 when they were Stanford students, and founded Google in 1998. Google’s services, ranging from online search, digital advertising and video, to email, cloud computing systems, phones and smart speaker hardware, make it one of the world’s most profitable companies today. Pichai has contributed to making such technology available globally.
The duo have rarely made public appearances, which hardly makes their announcement a surprise. They will, however, remain on Alphabet’s board and will control more than 51% of shares. As of April, Page held 26.1% of Alphabet’s total voting power, Brin 25.25% and Pichai less than 1%.
The move comes as at a turbulent period for Google, who showed lower profit compared to the previous year, after facing series of controversies. Governments on five continents demand better safeguards, less anti-competitive conduct and more taxes from Google. Thousands of employees have protested, and some have even resigned.
“This process of continuous evolution – which the founders often refer to as ‘uncomfortably exciting’ – is part of who we are.”, Pichai said in an email to Google employees.
Both in Europe and in the US, antitrust investigations into Google have been focusing on its advertising and search businesses. Google’s subsidiary, Youtube, has also faced series of complaints, related to child exploitation and radicalization content.
The European Union has opened preliminary investigations into Google and Facebook’s data practices:
“These investigations concern the way data is gathered, processed, used and monetized, including for advertising purposes”, said a spokesperson for the EU Commission.
“I want to be clear that this transition won’t affect the Alphabet structure or the work we do day to day”, Pichai said. “I will continue to be very focused on Google and the deep work we’re doing to push the boundaries of computing and build a more helpful Google for everyone”.
Page’s voice has been impaired because of a chronic condition, but Alphabed confirmed his health did not influence the decision to step back.
Page and Brin are also involved in other activities. Page is attempting to develop flying cars, while Brin expressed his interest in cryptocurrency.
“We are deeply humbled to have seen a small research project develop into a source of knowledge and empowerment for billions – a bet we made as two Stanford students that led to a multitude of other technology bets. We could not have imagined, back in 1998 when we moved our servers from a dorm room to a garage, the journey that would follow”, the duo concludes in their blog post.