Word is from John Furrier that Google Chief Information Officer Douglas Merrill is leaving the company to become president of EMI. News.com has confirmation of his departure from Google and says sources also say he’s going to EMI. The New York Times also has sources saying he’s headed to the music company. Merrill’s departure (recently profiled here in Information Week) comes less than a month after another senior exec, Sheryl Sandberg, left Google for Facebook. Brain drain? Sort of, but more a question of how do you keep rich top execs challenged, I’d say.
Brain drain? Yes and no. Both Sandberg and Merrill were well respected and important execs for Google, to my understanding and own opinion. But both were also pre-IPO employees who don’t likely need another job for money reasons. I can’t see their departures as a brain drain due to Google itself not being an attractive place to work. Rather, I think they are symptomatic of another issues. Pre-IPO execs at Google, having gained financial wealth, still crave something else — to show that they can thrive and excel out from under the Google shadow.
Let’s go back to Sandberg. Kara Swisher had a good exit interview with her, where Sandberg said:
"I was not looking in a big way, but I was seeking a new challenge either internally or externally after six years at Google building the online sales team," she said
Clearly, that challenge wasn’t to be had at Google. If it were, Sandberg would still be there. And so would Merrill, likely. Instead they — and no doubt top pre-IPO execs to come — are going to seek out challenges elsewhere. I don’t know if that’s a brain drain as much as Google perhaps being challenge-challenged.
Of course, we do continue to have other departures from Google. Just scroll through our Google Employees archives and you can see the posts about people who’ve gone. Adam Bosworth, formerly of Google Health, left last September. "Godfather" of AdSense, Gokul Rajaram, left in November. Salman Ullah, director of corporate development, went last October. Numerous product managers and others have called it quits.
Last week, Facebook gained yet another Googler — Ethan Beard, former social media director at Google. A Google Friend Is Now Facebooks from the New York Times has more about that, along with other Googlers who are now Facebookers. And Can Google Stop the Brain Drain? from Wired lists more notable people to leave Google.
Some of these departures I’d say more accurately fit the brain drain category – that Google’s got good people who are choosing to work elsewhere for a variety of reasons — greater challenges, less bureaucracy, more chance to shine, and significantly much higher chance of a bigger payday. Google’s not minting the multi-millionaires these days, plus no doubt many recent employees are finding their stock options are "underwater," where they could buy Google shares much more cheaply on the open market than using options that were supposed to be an incentive to join with and stay at Google.
As I said, Google’s still an attractive place to work. Fortune just rated it tops for 2008, and BusinessWeek recently profiled 15 happy employees. But it’s also a maturing company, far past its exciting start-up days and facing the pressure of how to attract and keep the talent that’s attracted to the challenges and potential pay-offs that start-ups give.
For more, see related discussion on Techmeme.