Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin step aside as Pichai takes helm of parent Alphabet

Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin announced Tuesday they're leaving their respective roles as CEO and President of parent company Alphabet. Sundar Pichai, the current chief executive of Google, will be CEO of Alphabet, replacing Page.
 A 2016 photo shows Sergey Brin (left), while a 2015 photo (right) shows Larry Page.
A 2016 photo shows Sergey Brin (left), while a 2015 photo (right) shows Larry Page.PHOTOS: AP

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - The co-founders of Google are stepping down as executives of its parent company, Alphabet, ending a remarkable two decades during which Mr Larry Page and Mr Sergey Brin shaped a startup born in a Silicon Valley garage into one of the world’s largest, most powerful – and, increasingly, most feared – firms in the world.

Mr Sundar Pichai, who has been leading Google as CEO for more than four years, will take on additional duties as Alphabet’s CEO, the position held by Mr Page.

The company isn’t filling Mr Brin’s position as president.

Mr Brin and Mr Page met as Stanford University graduate students in 1995 and started the company soon after.

What started as a way to catalog the growing Internet has now become one of the most powerful companies in the world.

Google dominates online search and digital advertising and makes the world’s most widely used operating system for smartphones, Android.

It’s hard to make it through a whole day without using one of Google’s services – ranging from online tools to email, cloud computing systems, phones and smart speaker hardware.

Mr Page and Mr Brin, in announcing the news Tuesday (Dec 3), said the company has "evolved and matured" in the two decades since its founding. Both promised to stay active as board members and shareholders.

"Today, in 2019, if the company was a person, it would be a young adult of 21 and it would be time to leave the roost," they wrote in a blog post.

Alphabet – an umbrella corporation that the two created in 2015 – still boasts Google as its central fixture and key moneymaker.

But it’s also made up of what are known as "other bets," or longshot projects. That includes drone company Wing and self-driving car firm Waymo.

Mr Page and Mr Brin both have been noticeably absent from Google events in the past year.

Both stopped making appearances at the weekly question-and-answer sessions with employees, and Mr Page didn’t attend this summer’s Alphabet shareholders meeting even though he was still in the CEO role.

Alphabet has been positioning Mr Pichai as the de facto leader for quite some time.

Mr Pichai, 47, has worked at the company for 15 years, serving as a leader in projects to build the company’s Chrome browser and overseeing Android.

Mr Pichai, who has an engineering background, took over as the head of Google’s products before being promoted to CEO when Alphabet was created.

Mr Pichai is known as a soft-spoken and respected manager.

Longtime tech analyst Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies said that for all intents and purposes, Mr Pichai has been the public face and the most instrumental person inside Google for the past few years.

Alphabet has made him the top executive voice at shareholders meetings, on earnings call and as a spokesman at congressional hearings.

So far, the company has shown no signs that it intends to replace Mr Pichai at Google.

But Mr Bajarin said doing so might make sense, given that Mr Pichai will have so much on his plate as CEO of the overall business, including regulatory pressures from the US and Europe.

Google is facing strong pushback from privacy groups, which are concerned about the personal information that Google has collected on its users, mostly to target advertising.

Google also faces complaints that it abuses its dominance in search and online advertising to push out rivals.

Google is the subject of antitrust inquiries from Congress, the Department of Justice and a contingency of states in the US and from European authorities.

The company has also faced harsh criticism about the material on its sites – and was slapped with a US$170 million (S$231.87 million) fine because its video streaming site YouTube improperly collected personal data on children without their parents’ consent.

In the short term, Mr Bajarin doesn’t expect much to change at the company. And if anything does, it will be due to government regulation – not the executive shuffle.

As for Mr Page and Mr Brin, Mr Bajarin added, "keep in mind, they are not losing their title as billionaires, but they are changing their roles."

Mr Brin and Mr Page still hold more than 50 per cent voting shares of Alphabet.

According to a regulatory filing in April, Mr Page holds 42.9 per cent of the company’s Class B shares and 26.1 per cent of its voting power.

Mr Brin holds 41.3 per cent of the Class B shares and 25.2 per cent of the voting power.

Google has nearly doubled its headcount since Mr Pichai took over as chief executive, growing from a company of 59,000 employees to 114,000 now.

Google’s stock increased less than 1 per cent in after-hours trading after the news was announced.

Google’s longest serving CEO is still Mr Eric Schmidt, the former executive brought into the role in 2001 as a so-called "adult supervisor" for Mr Brin and Mr Page.

Mr Schmidt stepped into the position as the company’s board worried about the relative inexperience of Mr Brin and Mr Page to manage the growing company.

He stayed on until 2011, when Mr Page once again became chief executive. Mr Schmidt stayed on the board until June.

Mr Page dropped out of graduate school at Stanford to start Google and doesn’t have a business degree. He grew up in Michigan, where his late father, Carl, was a computer scientist and pioneer in artificial intelligence, and his mother taught computer programming.

Mr Page began working on personal computers when he was just 6 years old in 1979, when home computers were a rarity.

The geeky impulses carried into his adulthood, leading him to once build an inkjet printer out of Legos.