By Jack Kelly, Forbes Senior Contributor
Signifying an end to an era, Alphabet CEO Larry Page and President Sergey Brin are relinquishing their executive roles at Google’s parent company. Google CEO Sundar Pichai will become CEO of Alphabet, while keeping his current role at Google.
In a blog post, Page and Brin said, “While it has been a tremendous privilege to be deeply involved in the day-to-day management of the company for so long, we believe it’s time to assume the role of proud parents—offering advice and love, but not daily nagging!” They added,
“We’ve never been ones to hold on to management roles when we think there’s a better way to run the company.”
The two cofounders will still serve on the board of directors at Alphabet and hold control voting rights over the company. They will still have a strong influence, but will not operate with official executive titles.
The two multibillionaires are the epitome of Silicon Valley success as well as the embodiment of the American dream. Brin immigrated to the United States with his family from the old Soviet Union when he was six years old. They founded the company in a small Menlo Park, California garage after being Ph.D. students together at Stanford University.
For years, they were heralded as geeky tech geniuses who wore jeans and t-shirts before it was chic and cool and won over people with their “don’t be evil” mantra. As time went on, their nerdy-guy shtick started to wear thin.
Once the scrappy startup, now Google is a behemoth. It’s confronting intense scrutiny from the government, media and public. Regulators in the U.S. and Europe question if the company is actually a villainous monopoly that stifles competition, has weak data privacy practices, skews Google results in favor of its political and social views, avoids paying its fair share of taxes and how the search engine adversely impacts society.
It’s a much different environment for the two executives who are both worth over $50 billion. Tech and social media CEOs have been dragged before Congress to testify about regulatory and social impact issues. Page was the frontman for Alphabet, but has shied away from the public and was a no-show when called to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating foreign election meddling. Page has been spending time on a pet project, Kitty Hawk, which is working on building flying cars. Brin is busy working on a $150 million blimp, which will be an intercontinental “air yacht.”
There has been growing tension amongst Google employees. Last week, the company dismissed several activist workers for allegedly violating its data-security policies. Ex-Google employee James Damore was ousted by the company for allegedly writing a memo questioning the corporation’s push to have one political and social viewpoint. He claimed that the culture at Google created an “ideological echo chamber.”
About 20,000 Google employees walked out of the company’s worldwide offices to protest the company paying out over $100 million to executives who were accused of sexual harassment in the workplace. Google apologized and promised to overhaul its sexual misconduct policies.
There have been other instances where employees have protested against actions Google has taken. One such matter was Project Dragonfly, a censored and surveillance-enabling search engine reportedly being built for China.
The very rich may not be so different than us in some respects. Of course, they have more money, power and privilege than we can only dream of. Just because individuals possess incredible wealth and power, it doesn’t mean that you don’t continue to have career aspirations.
Managing an enormous global business isn’t as much fun as growing a small startup. There are regulatory headaches and challenges associated with managing 100,000 employees around the world, while being forced to appear before and grilled by Congress. This is not an attractive way to live your life, especially when you have a passion for building new and exciting tech projects. The two gentlemen, like many of us at some point in our careers, feel that they’ve accomplished what they set out to do and now desire to pursue other endeavors.
Page and Brin may have the luxury of wealth to fall back upon, but it is a common thread for all to pursue new challenges, take on risks and pursue our passions.