Why is Eric Schmidt stepping down as Alphabet chairman?
Seventeen years after joining Google, which then had a few hundred employees, Eric Schmidt is stepping down as Alphabet chairman. He will continue serving as technical advisor. Schmidt, who assisted Google's tremendous growth, has had an illustrious stint, but controversies surrounding him might have taken their toll. Here's how Google plans to proceed without Schmidt at the helm.
Schmidt joined Google in 2001 and was CEO till 2011. In 2015, he became Alphabet chairman. He was the "adult supervision" for co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and Google's public face, handling its relationship with the government, regulators and the tech industry. Schmidt's achievements include taking Google public, spearheading critical product initiatives and overseeing the transition to Alphabet. Forbes puts his net worth at $13.8bn.
But Schmidt's tenure saw controversies too. Under him, Google faced lawsuits for paying women less and colluding with Apple to keep wages down by not hiring each other's employees. There were reports he wanted details of his political donations removed from the search engine. Recently, a New America Foundation scholar alleged Schmidt forced him out after he applauded EU's record $2.7bn fine on Google.
The surprise announcement has also drawn attention to his promiscuous lifestyle. Though Schmidt has been married for 37 years, he has publicly dated a string of women and even brought them to corporate events. In 2013, reports claimed Schmidt bought a $15mn private penthouse in Manhattan as a love-nest. However, barring PR executive Marcy Simon, all his dalliances have reportedly been with non-Google people.
"Larry, Sergey, Sundar and I all believe that the time is right...for this transition. The Alphabet structure is working well, and Google and the Other Bets are thriving...I've been spending time on science and technology issues, and philanthropy, and I plan to expand that work."
The announcement signals a shift to a new generation of leaders at Alphabet. Internally, the mention of Sundar Pichai in his statement is being seen as hint of a new Page-Brin-Pichai triumvirate. US' shifting political environment has also marginalized Schmidt: during Barack Obama's reign, he prominently represented Google on policy matters. But since Donald Trump's ascension, others in Google have eclipsed him in Washington.
Schmidt will now act as technical advisor to Alphabet while serving on its board. His departure as chairman is likely to have no effect on day-to-day operations. As he said in his statement, he will now focus on science and technology issues, as well as philanthropy. Google plans to appoint a non-executive chairman at the next meeting in January, when Schmidt leaves.