SAN FRANCISCO — It’s the end of an internet era: Larry Page is stepping down as head of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, and ceding control to Sundar Pichai who will take over as CEO of both, the internet giant said in an announcement Tuesday.
Page and Sergey Brin, who co-founded Google more than two decades ago while graduate students at Stanford University, will continue as members of Alphabet’s board of directors. They are the company’s two largest individual shareholders but have been increasingly absent from the role of representing Google in public, even as the demands on the leaders of major tech companies intensified.
The surprise news from one of the world’s most powerful technology companies comes as Google has been rocked by criticism from Washington lawmakers and President Trump, growing scrutiny from regulators, rising competition from Amazon.com, internal scandals and unrest within its own ranks.
Saying it’s a “natural time to simplify our management structure,” Page and Brin said Google and its parent company no longer need “two CEOs and a president.”
“We’ve never been ones to hold on to management roles when we think there’s a better way to run the company,” the duo wrote in a letter announcing their decision.
Page’s decision to step down did not surprise Google watchers who have noted his increasingly hands-off approach to being Alphabet’s top executive. In recent years, Page and Brin spent most of their time focused on what Alphabet calls “other bets,” technologies that are far afield from internet advertising, while Pichai ran Google and its search and advertising business.
It wasn’t always this way. Page was far more visible inside and outside the company in 2011 when he retook the reins as CEO from Eric Schmidt, who was brought in to help take the young company public in 2004. The public offering was the springboard that transformed Google’s lucrative search advertising business into one of the world’s largest companies with its fingers in everything from YouTube to smart devices.
Pichai, who joined Google in 2004, became CEO of Google in 2015 when Google created a new publicly traded company to house all of its disparate businesses at a time when investors were rattled by Google’s spending on its “moonshots,” experimental projects such as driverless cars and delivering Internet access from high-altitude balloons.
In that sweeping overhaul of the company, Page became CEO of Alphabet, Brin became president and Eric Schmidt became executive chairman. Schmidt stepped down in January 2017. Now all three figures have taken their hands off the wheel in the daily management of Alphabet.
In an email to Google employees, Pichai said the management shift would not undercut his work at Google. “I will continue to be very focused on Google and the deep work we’re doing to push the boundaries of computing and build a more helpful Google for everyone,” he wrote. “At the same time, I’m excited about Alphabet and its long term focus on tackling big challenges through technology.”
Alphabet shares closed at $1,294.74 Tuesday and rose less than 1% in after-hours trading after the news broke. Alphabet stock is up about 24% this year. The company is valued at nearly $900 billion.