Google Founders Sergey Brin And Larry Page Step Down From Top Roles

Dec 3, 2019
Originally published on December 5, 2019 12:41 pm

Updated at 6:07 p.m. ET

Ending an era at the Internet's biggest search company, Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page are leaving their leadership roles and CEO Sundar Pichai will become chief executive of both Google and its parent company, Alphabet.

Page is stepping down as CEO of Alphabet, while Brin is resigning as its president. They will remain board members of Alphabet, a company that oversees not just Google but also research into artificial intelligence and self-driving cars.

Page and Brin founded Google in 1998 when they were Stanford students. They made Google into one of the world's largest, most profitable companies, dominating online search, digital advertising and video.

"We've never been ones to hold on to management roles when we think there's a better way to run the company," they wrote in a letter Tuesday. "And Alphabet and Google no longer need two CEOs and a President."

In an email to Google employees, Pichai said that in his more than 15 years with Google, "the only constant I've seen is change. This process of continuous evolution — which the founders often refer to as 'uncomfortably exciting' — is part of who we are."

The restructuring at the top of Google comes as at time of increased turmoil for the Internet giant.

Google, the company that was known for the motto "don't be evil," has been known for its open and freewheeling culture, with employees encouraged to speak out. But lately, management has been cracking down on dissent and criticism.

Google fired four engineers last week for accessing internal information. But the workers said they lost their jobs over their labor-organizing efforts. They said they will file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

Last year, thousands of Google workers around the world walked out in protest of sexual harassment and bad behavior by executives.

Google, along with Facebook and Amazon, is under scrutiny into whether it's too powerful.

Regulators in the U.S. and Europe are looking into how dominant Google is in search and advertising. Some critics are even calling for the company to be broken up. There's no indication that any of this is connected to Page and Brin stepping aside. It's just another sign of how the company is changing.

Page and Brin acknowledged that Google is no longer the same company they founded. "Since we wrote our first founders' letter, the company has evolved and matured," they wrote Tuesday.

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It is a historic moment for one of the most influential companies of our time, Google. Its two co-founders are stepping down. Here to talk about Larry Page and Sergey Brin and their move is NPR's technology correspondent Shannon Bond.

Hi, Shannon.


KELLY: So tell me more. What happened today?

BOND: Yeah. Well, it's the end of an era at Google. Larry and Sergey founded the company in 1998, when they were Stanford University students. And...

KELLY: I love that you're on a first-name basis with them, by the way.


KELLY: Go on.

BOND: Well, I think a lot of people in the valley are.

KELLY: Yeah.

BOND: You know, think about them that way - they - you know, they made Google into one of the largest companies in the world. It dominates online search and digital advertising and video. Just a few moments ago, they announced they're leading - leaving their leadership roles. Now, they had already been playing less of an active role in the past few years. Larry Page in particular hasn't really been publicly, you know, present at Google.


BOND: But they say they'll still be active board members but no longer calling the shots. That's going to be Google's current CEO, Sundar Pichai. He will be CEO of both Google and its parent company, Alphabet.

KELLY: But so why? Why would they step away from this company that's their baby?

BOND: Well, right. This is a company that they founded and that they have seen through a lot. I think, you know, part of it is the company has really changed over time. It's not that sort of idealistic place that they started. They've made a lot of money. They've been focusing on other things. And I think they say it's now time, you know, for new management to reflect where the company currently is.

KELLY: And where is the current state of Google? I mean, what kind of shape will they be leaving it in as they step away?

BOND: Well, it is a very turbulent time right now at Google, maybe the most turbulent in its short history. You know, Google is, of course, extremely profitable, but it's facing a lot of challenges, including from within. There are employees who are really, really unhappy. There've been a lot of protests over a range of issues - contracts with the military, contracts with immigration agencies. One day in November last year, 20,000 Google workers walked out over sexual harassment and bad behavior by executives that they said was tolerated. Google's always been known for this very open, freewheeling culture. Employees were encouraged to speak out, but that's been really cracked down on lately. Just last week, four employees who were involved in protests were fired. There's also external pressure from regulators who have been looking into just how dominant Google is in search and advertising. Some people even want the company to be broken up. Now, there's no indication that their stepping down is related to those issues. But I think it's just another sign just how far Google has come from 1998 when they started it.

KELLY: Right. I mean, it sounds like a fascinating moment for a company that was famous for - wasn't the motto, don't be evil?

BOND: Yeah. I mean, these were very idealistic guys. You know, they founded this company in their dorm room at Stanford. It was built around this vision of helping people find information. But it's grown. It's not just the biggest search engine with a 90% market share. It's an advertising behemoth. It's developing artificial intelligence. There are self-driving Google cars on the streets in Phoenix. And they acknowledged this change in a letter to employees. They said it's evolved and matured.

KELLY: And time to turn the page - that is NPR's Shannon Bond.

Thank you, Shannon.

BOND: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.