The Industry

Google’s Co-Founders, Who Have Been Disappearing From the Company for Years, Are Stepping Down

Page and Brin have been becoming less and less involved in the company in recent years.
Page and Brin have been becoming less and less involved in the company in recent years.
Michael Nagle/Getty Images

On Tuesday, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin announced they would step down as the top executives at Alphabet, Google’s parent company. Sundar Pichai, who is currently the CEO of Google, will also now be the CEO of Alphabet, whose subsidiaries also include the company’s “other bets,” like Waymo and Sidewalk Labs. What’s striking, however, might not be that Page are Brin and leaving their roles now—but that, based on their increased absence from the company, it didn’t happen sooner.

Here’s how they put it: “Today, in 2019, if [Alphabet] was a person, it would be a young adult of 21 and it would be time to leave the roost,” Page and Brin wrote in a joint letter. “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!”

Brin’s former role as president and Page’s former role as CEO at Alphabet will now be consolidated into one position, which Pichai is set to helm. “Alphabet and Google no longer need two CEOs and a President,” the letter reads. The co-founders say they plan to talk to Pichai regularly and will remain as shareholders board members who control a majority of the voting power.

The two co-founders met at Stanford University in 1995 and launched Google in 1998. Google was netting tens of millions of dollars from venture capitalists in 1999, had a $1.66 billion IPO in 2004, and was earning tens of billions of dollars in revenue by 2010. In 2015, executives decided to restructure the company and form a parent called Alphabet, separating out its capital investing arms, biotech initiatives, and other projects from Google. Alphabet is now valued at nearly $900 billion, and Google now handles more than 70 percent of the world’s search requests.

Brin and Page have become less and less involved in Alphabet as of late. Their attendance at annual shareholder meetings and weekly internal Q&A sessions has reportedly been flagging, and employees say that the two have not had much visible presence on the company’s campus for years. Pichai was also the only executive to show up to a high-profile House hearing in 2018 to examine Google’s data privacy practices, and members of Congress have chided Page for declining invitations to testify. The co-founders seem to have been turning their attention to pet projects that have little to do with Alphabet’s core business operations. For example, Larry Page has been backing a flying car startup in New Zealand called Kitty Hawk, while Brin has become more involved with Google X, the company’s incubator for moonshot projects.

Pichai’s promotion comes at a treacherous moment for Google and Alphabet, which have been beset by public scrutiny into the companies’ privacy policies, dealings with China, monopolistic tendencies, and labor practices. While Page and Brin say they’ll still advise Pichai, it appears that the issues facing Google are now largely his alone.