Era ends for Google as Founders step aside from a Pillar of Tech

Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the Stanford graduate students who founded Google over two decades ago, are stepping down from executive roles at Google’s parent company, Alphabet, they announced on Tuesday. Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, will become the chief of both Google and Alphabet.

The move is an end of an era for Google. Mr. Page and Mr. Brin have personified the company since its founding and have been two of the technology industry’s most influential figures, on a par with the founders of Apple and Microsoft, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Their early work on the Google search engine helped corral an unruly cloud of information on the World Wide Web. And their ideas about how to run an internet company — like offering generous employee perks like free shuttle buses to the office and making rank-and-file employees feel as though they have a stake in the company — became a standard for Silicon Valley.

Mr. Page and Mr. Brin took lesser roles in day-to-day operations in 2015 when they turned Google into Alphabet, a holding company that includes the self-driving car company Waymo under its umbrella. Since then, they have spent more time overseeing a variety of so-called other bets, like life-extension technology, while Mr. Pichai ran Google and its enormous search and advertising business. The business has continued to grow and Alphabet is among the most valuable companies in the world, but the internet giant is entering one of the most turbulent periods in its history, with antitrust scrutiny, employee walkouts and growing public skepticism of its power.Mr. Page and Mr. Brin, who are both 46, will remain directors on Alphabet’s board and the company’s two largest individual shareholders. They retain a majority of the company’s voting shares, which will give them effective control over the board and ensure they maintain a say over the company’s future.

The move confirms the ascendancy of Mr. Pichai, who is 47, as one of tech’s most powerful people. While he has run the core Google business for four years, he has still reported to Mr. Page, Alphabet’s chief executive, and Mr. Brin, its president. Now he is the sole executive in charge of a company that has giant businesses in search, advertising, maps, smartphone software and online video, as well as a variety of fledgling bets in far-off areas like drone deliveries and internet-beaming balloons.In recent years, Mr. Page and Mr. Brin seemed to have lost interest in running the company they founded. The reorganization into a holding company was in part intended to address that. While Mr. Pichai took the reins of the often messy business of Google, Mr. Page and Mr. Brin would focus on what were effectively science projects.

In their letter on Tuesday, Mr. Page and Mr. Brin said they would remain committed to the company “for the long term, and will remain actively involved as board members, shareholders and co-founders. In addition, we plan to continue talking with Sundar regularly, especially on topics we’re passionate about!” Whatever they decide to do, they will have no trouble funding it. Mr. Page is worth about $58.9 billion and Mr. Brin is worth about $56.8 billion, the sixth- and seventh-richest people in the world, according to Forbes.

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