Schmidt Waves goodbye to top spot at Google

Google's Eric Schmidt is moving upstairs, handing the CEO reins back to founder Larry Page. Should we read anything into it?

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 25 Feb 2011
‘Day-to-day adult supervision is no longer needed!’ were the (slightly patronising) words used by Google CEO Eric Schmidt to tweet the news that he’ll be handing the reins back to founder Larry Page in April, after a decade in the top job. The party line is that having hired Schmidt to reassure investors, Google founders Page and Sergey Brin are now grown-up enough to lead the company themselves, while Schmidt will move upstairs to an executive chairman role. Judging by its latest figures, Google is still going gangbusters - but that hasn't stopped speculation that there's a deeper meaning behind all this...

Google's just posted its results for the last quarter of 2010, and things are going as swimmingly as ever: it made a profit of $2.54bn (£1.6bn), up from $1.97bn in the previous quarter. Revenues were also up 26%, to $8.44bn. So we suppose it's as good time as any to announce that the CEO who has turned Google into a near-$150bn company is stepping aside.

But why now? Ostensibly, it’s just a matter of streamlining: Schmidt says Google has been looking at ‘how best to simplify our management structure and speed up decision making’. And while there was a clear case for a 'safe pair of hands' CEO in the early days, when Page and Brin were just twenty-somethings straight out of college, that presumably doesn't apply so much any more. And let's face it: having the relatively callow Mark Zuckerberg at the helm doesn't seem to have done Facebook any harm.

Speaking of which, the conspiracy theorists have inevitably come out in force already. Some reckon that Google needs a tech guy like Page back in the top job to combat the growing threat of Facebook. Despite those massive revenue numbers, Google has made a few mis-steps lately (the inexplicable Google Wave; the underwhelming Buzz, the privacy concerns over Street View, the decision to pull out of China, for instance); so others are suggesting that Schmidt is being eased aside because he's outlived his usefulness.

On the other hand you might argue that Schmidt's new role - which will involve glad-handing investors and regulators - is actually of huge importance to Google these days. So assuming this isn't just a temporary face-saving measure, he's not really being shunted into the sidings.

Either way, the lack of impact on Google's share price suggests Wall Street isn't too worried. And as Google continues its push into mobile (its Android operating system is already outselling iPhones), it surely won't hurt to have a techie like Page overseeing operations. Especially now he's out of short trousers.

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