Alphabet chair set to step down

Schmidt, who will remain on the board of directors, was central in Google's expansion

SAN FRANCISCO • Alphabet said on Thursday its executive chairman Eric Schmidt will step down next month, ending a 17-year run in which he played a central role in building a promising start-up called Google into a global technology powerhouse.

He will continue to serve on the Alphabet's board of directors and act as an adviser focused on technical and science issues.

"The time is right in Alphabet's evolution for this transition," Mr Schmidt said in a statement.

"I'm incredibly excited about the progress our companies are making and about the strong leaders who are driving that innovation," said chief executive Larry Page in a statement.

Mr Schmidt, who was recruited to the company by Google co-founders Page and Sergey Brin, served as chief executive from 2001 to 2011, acting as what the three jokingly referred to as the "adult supervision".

Mr Schmidt then became executive chairman, often travelling the world touting the company's accomplishments, negotiating with governments on regulatory matters and speaking about the state of the tech industry.

"He helped them mature into the powerhouse business it is today without throwing away the uniqueness that was Google during those early days," said Seattle start-up Heptio's chief technology officer Joe Bedaof, a Google employee from 2004 to 2014.

Among Mr Schmidt's accomplishments were taking the company public in 2004, shepherding critical product initiatives like the Android mobile operating system, and overseeing a massive 2015 corporate restructuring in which Google became a business unit of the holding company Alphabet.

Among Mr Schmidt's accomplishments were taking the company public in 2004, shepherding critical product initiatives like the Android mobile operating system, and overseeing a massive 2015 corporate restructuring in which Google became a business unit of the holding company Alphabet.

San Francisco start-up Wizeline CEO Bismarck Lepe, a Google employee from 2003 until 2007, said Mr Page and Mr Brin focused on the company's technology and the product strategies, while Mr Schmidt focused on how to scale every product to a global level.

Mr Schmidt "was incredibly smart and incredibly technical, which made him a perfect fit", Mr Lepe added.

Mr Schmidt's tenure was not without its problems.

Google, Apple and several other tech companies were hit with a class action lawsuit in 2011 alleging that executives including Mr Schmidt and the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs conspired to keep wages down by not hiring one anothers' employees. The suit was settled for US$415 million in 2015.

The company has also been hit with lawsuits alleging that it pays women less than men. It also faces a series of antitrust actions in Europe, though Mr Schmidt was instrumental in convincing the US Federal Trade Commission not to pursue antitrust actions in the US.

Mr Schmidt spent more than a decade at Sun Microsystems and ran the now-defunct networking company Novell before joining Google in 2001.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 23, 2017, with the headline 'Alphabet chair set to step down'. Print Edition | Subscribe