Was It Time For A Fresh Face? Thoughts On Larry Page As The New Google CEO

Wow. Just announced, Google CEO Eric Schmidt is stepping down from that position, to become “Executive Chairman,” with Google cofounder Larry Page stepping into the CEO role. Below, some reflection on how Schmidt came into the role that Page once held and why the company may be making a change now.

The Announcement

First, let me give you all the official news. Already seen this stuff? Then scroll down to get into the analysis. From Google’s press release on the news:

  • Starting from April 4, Larry Page, Google Co-Founder, will take charge of Google’s day-to-day operations as Chief Executive Officer.
  • Sergey Brin, Google Co-Founder, will devote his energy to strategic projects, in particular working on new products.
  • Eric Schmidt will assume the role of Executive Chairman, focusing externally on deals, partnerships, customers and broader business relationships, government outreach and technology thought leadership–all of which are increasingly important given Google’s global reach. Internally, he will continue to act as an advisor to Larry and Sergey.

Commenting on these changes, Eric said: “We’ve been talking about how best to simplify our management structure and speed up decision making for a long time. By clarifying our individual roles we’ll create clearer responsibility and accountability at the top of the company. In my clear opinion, Larry is ready to lead and I’m excited about working with both him and Sergey for a long time to come.”

Larry said: “Eric has clearly done an outstanding job leading Google for the last decade. The results speak for themselves. There is no other CEO in the world that could have kept such headstrong founders so deeply involved and still run the business so brilliantly. Eric is a tremendous leader and I have learned innumerable lessons from him. His advice and efforts will be invaluable to me as I start in this new role. Google still has such incredible opportunity–we are only at the beginning and I can’t wait to get started.

Schmidt’s also blogged about the move on the Official Google blog:

When I joined Google in 2001 I never imagined—even in my wildest dreams—that we would get as far, as fast as we have today. Search has quite literally changed people’s lives—increasing the collective sum of the world’s knowledge and revolutionizing advertising in the process. And our emerging businesses—display, Android, YouTube and Chrome—are on fire. Of course, like any successful organization we’ve had our fair share of good luck, but the entire team—now over 24,000 Googlers globally—deserves most of the credit.

And as our results today show, the outlook is bright. But as Google has grown, managing the business has become more complicated. So Larry, Sergey and I have been talking for a long time about how best to simplify our management structure and speed up decision making—and over the holidays we decided now was the right moment to make some changes to the way we are structured.

For the last 10 years, we have all been equally involved in making decisions. This triumvirate approach has real benefits in terms of shared wisdom, and we will continue to discuss the big decisions among the three of us. But we have also agreed to clarify our individual roles so there’s clear responsibility and accountability at the top of the company.

Larry will now lead product development and technology strategy, his greatest strengths, and starting from April 4 he will take charge of our day-to-day operations as Google’s Chief Executive Officer. In this new role I know he will merge Google’s technology and business vision brilliantly. I am enormously proud of my last decade as CEO, and I am certain that the next 10 years under Larry will be even better! Larry, in my clear opinion, is ready to lead.

Sergey has decided to devote his time and energy to strategic projects, in particular working on new products. His title will be Co-Founder. He’s an innovator and entrepreneur to the core, and this role suits him perfectly.

As Executive Chairman, I will focus wherever I can add the greatest value: externally, on the deals, partnerships, customers and broader business relationships, government outreach and technology thought leadership that are increasingly important given Google’s global reach; and internally as an advisor to Larry and Sergey.

We are confident that this focus will serve Google and our users well in the future. Larry, Sergey and I have worked exceptionally closely together for over a decade—and we anticipate working together for a long time to come. As friends, co-workers and computer scientists we have a lot in common, most important of all a profound belief in the potential for technology to make the world a better place. We love Google—our people, our products and most of all the opportunity we have to improve the lives of millions of people around the world.

Google: Pre-Schmidt

What’s it all mean? I’ve had about ten minutes to digest it, so far. No doubt we’ll see plenty of analysis come, and I’ll provide some of my own at the end of this piece. But it might be useful to revisit how Schmidt came into the role, as well as the positions that cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin came to occupy.

Schmidt came on at CEO in 2001, about three years after the incorporation of Google. He was widely seen as bringing “adult supervision” to the company. In fact, he tweeted a joke about this when announcing his departure on via Twitter:

Day-to-day adult supervision no longer needed!

Previously, Page had filled the CEO position, while Brin served as the company’s president. Both cofounders assumed new “president” titles: Page was “President, Products” while Brin was “President, Technology.”

It’s interesting that as part of the changes today, those two “president” positions weren’t mentioned. They appear to be eliminated. Page, who oversaw product, now both remains that responsibility but also seemingly hands off new product development to Brin.

Google During Schmidt

Since Schmidt took over, Google has continued to skyrocket successfully. Perhaps one of his biggest achievements was achieving the trust and acceptance of the two close cofounders to run their company. Indeed, over the past years, Google changed from being synonymous with just the cofounders to being linked to the triumvirate.

The three became so close that it even was revealed later that they’d all agreed to stay working together until 2024.

Why Change?

With things running so well, why would Google change up now? If you take the statements at face value, Page is “ready to lead” and the overall structure is deemed ready to be simplified.

There’s no doubt Google’s probably overdue for a major management reorganization. The structures between the three have remained exactly the same over the past 10 years — which might as well be 100 years of internet time.

In that time, Google has transformed from a scrappy little underdog search engine into a massive advertising and technological powerhouse. The start-up culture seemingly has been largely swallowed by inevitable bureaucracy that comes with getting bigger. Meanwhile, it has faced challenges in convincing new and key employees that it remains the place to be versus rivals like Facebook.

Tired Of Being The Public Face?

Other possible reasons for the change? Well, it could be that Schmidt wants a break from being the main public face of the company. The two cofounders are notoriously difficult to pin down for any event, such as doing major press interviews or conference appearances. Part of Schmidt’s role has been to be the “dependable face” of Google for such things. But being that face can take a toll.

In particular, over the past year or so, Schmidt’s had a number of statements come back to haunt him, such as talk about getting up to the creepy line. (AllThingsD also has a fresh recap here). He’s largely described these as jokes that were taken the wrong way or put them on the press that was getting things out of context.

Still, however they’ve been interpreted, they’ve been harmful to Google’s reputation — not something your CEO to be doing. Schmidt was even recently lampooned as a scary characterture in a giant video that was playing in New York’s Times Square from an anti-Google group:

YouTube Preview Image

So maybe Schmidt was tired of playing this particular role. Maybe the three executives were discussion it and decided it was time for a fresh public face.

The Fresh Face

If so, you couldn’t get a fresher face among the three than Larry Page. While both cofounders are relatively “quiet” on the public statement front, Page has been exceptionally so. The last major event I recall him doing was a keynote talk at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2006, with special guest Robin Williams.

Brin is also pretty quiet, though he’s spoken about Google and China several times in ways that have attracted much attention. But Page, to me, has largely been unseen.

There’s potentially a huge advantage in that, for Google. If Page is stepping up as the public face, it’s an opportunity to defuse or put some of the gaffes associated with Schmidt behind the company. Page carries virtually no such baggage. That doesn’t mean he gets a pass on anything associated with Google from before he took over. But it is a bit of a fresh start.

Of course, how well Page will perform remains to be seen. In the past, he’s been somewhat notoriously shy. He’s about to enter a new world of publicity. Perhaps we’ll see Larry Page 2.0 emerge and deftly settle into the new role. Perhaps not. Time will tell.

Not Just A CEO Change

The focus of today’s news is on Schmidt moving out of the CEO role, but I think it’s important to look at all three shifts.

Schmidt’s blog post said Page, as CEO, will “lead product development.” Page was previously the president of products, so it seems he’ll effectively continue to do both roles.

But then again, Brin — who previously was the president of technology– loses that title and to be simply “cofounder.” His role is described as handling strategic and new products.

As the three talked, was there a decision that Google — which has taken some fire (not always fairly) that it wasn’t creating new products — needed someone other than Page? Is Brin potentially fixing a Page “problem” in the way that some might view Page as fixing a “Schmidt” problem?

Looking Outside Google?

What I wonder most is if in a year or so, will there be a search for a new CEO outside of Google? Is Page in it for the long haul? Or was this instead a temporary change until the three could take time to seek out a new CEO that they’d all agree and trust?

As said, time will tell.

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • http://www.highrankings.com/seoservicestwitter Jill Whalen

    Was it something he said? :D

  • http://www.mindshareworld.com Ciarán Norris

    So, they’re simplifying the structure, and as part of that one of them looks after product development, and the other new products. I kind of get it, but even so, ummmm…

  • http://docsheldon.com Doc Sheldon

    Great piece, Danny! Should be interesting to see how this all pans out. Conjecture always runs wild at times like this. I suspect that Eric will remain, long-term, though.

    NOW! I can’t WAIT to hear more about Marissa’s next gambit!

  • http://www.sharperoo.com Economist

    My sense is that this is a move to improve their ever-diminishing reputation. Between privacy concerns, creepy statements by the CEO, more and more blog posts about Google’s search failures, their reputation has taken a serious hit at least in the tech community. If they are going to begin a reputation overhaul, sticking a new face up front is the first step.

    Side note: Danny, your site crashed on me 2 times when I was registering/integrating with Twitter (which ended up failing), and the captcha is entirely too hard. The wordpress.org akismet works so well!

  • http://www.L-I-N-K-E-D.com SeekGeek

    I found Google’s choice of photo in the Official Chairman blog post very interesting and symbolic: http://www.l-i-n-k-e-d.com/larry-page-in-the-driving-seat/

  • http://mauricewalshe mauricewalshe

    have my suspicions that Eric was hired mainly as Not “John Sculley” and less as “Adult Supervision”

    Its very telling that Matt C was sent off to washington to do the dog and pony show instead of a board member.

    And as an Ex BT employee its staggering how much bureaucracy they have in ten years when compared to a 100+ year old civil service derived monster that is BT hire a few less MBA’s and try to get Alan Mulally as a mentor would be my advice to Larry

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