Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the co-founders of tech giant Google, announced in an open letter yesterday that they would be stepping down from their executive positions at Google holding company Alphabet. Both Google and Alphabet will now be run by Sundar Pichai, the current Google CEO.
“We’ve never been ones to hold on to management roles when we think there’s a better way to run the company,” wrote Page and Brin, both 46, who have been CEO and President of Alphabet respectively since the holding company was set up in 2015. On Pichai’s succession to Alphabet’s top positions, they said: “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.”
The co-founders’ move is not entirely unexpected: already keeping low profiles in recent years, they reportedly skipped all of the company’s town hall meetings this year.
However, they will remain active on Alphabet’s board of directors, and as they collectively control 51 percent of voting rights, it is likely that even without their official titles, they will still have a great deal of sway over the company’s--and therefore Google’s--direction.
Under the leadership of Page and Brin, Google became well known not just for its technological breakthroughs, but for an extremely open and flexible corporate culture that over time set the tone for much of the rest of Silicon Valley, at least in terms of trappings and novelties.
The idea that a creative and innovative company should have nap pods, ping pong tables, and video gaming rooms, for example, is at least partly the result of tech companies copying Google’s employee perks in the hope of achieving similar success.
The early influences on Google’s culture can be traced back to Page, who during his first tenure as CEO emphasized openness over hierarchy, output over face time, ideas over status, flexibility over red tape. He notoriously tried to fire all of Google’s project managers in 2001, insisting that non-engineers should not supervise engineers because they did not have the technical knowledge to understand what the engineers were doing. Although this move failed dramatically, the root concept eventually spread and became a standard management practice in Silicon Valley.
In contrast to Page, whose reputation is that of a leader who has difficulty relating to others, Google CEO Sundar Pichai is known for a tremendously collaborative, community- and relationship-focused leadership style. He was described as the world’s most reputable CEO in a 2018 study by the Reputation Institute, which measured how CEOs are publicly perceived in the dimensions of empathy, trust, consistency, social responsibility and openness--quite a difference from the stereotypical image of aggressive, abrasive Silicon Valley leaders.
Pichai has said that this movement of Google’s top figures will not change anything for the company or its employees. In a follow-up email to Google employees which was made public, he wrote: “I want to be clear that this transition won't affect the Alphabet structure or the work we do day to day. 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. At the same time, I’m excited about Alphabet and its long term focus on tackling big challenges through technology.”