Google released its earnings report today, along with a bombshell: The triumvirate of executives that has run the company for the last ten years is being disbanded, and co-founder Larry Page is stepping up to run the show.
Eric Schmidt, the "grown-up" brought on in 2001 to supervise whiz-kid founders Page and Sergey Brin, is ceding his CEO role to Page (who had the role before Schmidt arrived, when Google was still a private company with venture-capitalist backers) and will become executive chairman. "Day-to-day adult supervision no longer needed!" Schmidt said on Twitter. "Larry, in my clear opinion, is ready to lead," he added in a blog post. That implies Page wasn't ready back then and validates the last ten years of Schmidt's tenure but it would be hard to quibble when the company has had such success over that span.
Schmidt will now essentially focus on corporate schmoozing, or, in his words, "the deals, partnerships, customers and broader business relationships, government outreach and technology thought leadership." Felix Salmon writes that Schmidt is "keeping for himself the outside-facing parts of CEO-dom which Silicon Valley nerds by their nature are pretty bad at."
What about Brin, who is best-known for being Google's conscience and "don't be evil" moral center? His title, "co-founder," sounds more like a statement of fact than an actual title. Schmidt's blog post said Brin will "devote his time and energy to strategic projects, in particular working on new products," but that doesn't sound like a very powerful or well-defined role.
As much as Schmidt, Brin, and Page presented a united front to the outside world, it's hard to imagine that finding a three-person consensus for every decision made Google as nimble as it could have been over the last decade. But what it did provide was stability, and the company's monolithic domination of the unbelievably lucrative business category that it created online search ads certainly benefited from the absence of corporate drama.
Page, in his return to the CEO's seat, faces a list of problems that would have been unimaginable ten years ago. The social networkers at Facebook and the perfectionist Steve Jobs disciples at Apple would love to chip away at Google's long-held dominance. Microsoft's Bing search engine is growing market share. Perhaps an even bigger problem: There is a faint but growing chorus of doubts about Google's golden goose. Have the content farms and search engine optimizers finally degraded Google's search results enough to affect the bottom line?
An update from the Chairman [GoogleBlog]
Google Grows Revenues 26% In 4th Quarter To $8.44 Billion [TechCrunch]
Meet Google’s new CEO, same as the old CEO: Larry Page [MediaBeat]