Eric Schmidt, who did as much as anyone to shape the Internet and in doing so made such practices as search engine optimization necessary, is stepping down from his role as executive chairman of Alphabet, the parent company of Google.
According to CNBC:
Schmidt first joined Google as CEO in 2001, back when the company only had several hundred employees, and became its executive chairman 10 years later. He maintained that role when Google restructured to become Alphabet in 2015.
“Larry, Sergey, Sundar and I all believe that the time is right in Alphabet’s evolution for this transition,” Schmidt said in a statement. “The Alphabet structure is working well, and Google and the Other Bets are thriving. In recent years, I’ve been spending a lot of my time on science and technology issues, and philanthropy, and I plan to expand that work.”
A source tells CNBC that the transition has been in the works for about a year, and that board member John Hennessy, a former president of Stanford University with a long history in computer hardware and research, is a likely candidate to replace Schmidt as chairman.
Schmidt’s influence at Google, and over the Internet, is hard to overstate. He was CEO as the company became the dominant search engine and developed a business model dependent upon search advertising revenue.
Given that influence, disciplines like search engine optimization would be very different had he not run Google.
Wired reports that Schmidt also had a huge impact on Silicon Valley’s business culture:
Schmidt’s departure from the executive chair role ends Silicon Valley’s most successful execution—ever—of the dilemma that Google’s funders were coping with in the firm’s early days. How do you bring in an authoritative leader without dimming the brilliance of the callow founders who made the company valuable in the first place? Though Schmidt won deserved plaudits for his tenure as CEO, his most impressive feat was a delicate balancing act of being both the boss of Google’s freewheeling founders—supplying so-called “adult supervision”—and enthusiastically assuming the role of their student as well. All too aware of how similar situations wound up in continual boardroom spats between a hoodied founder and a khakied executive, Schmidt determined early on that exercising authority over Page and Brin would lead to disaster. He never missed an opportunity to ostentatiously proclaim the genius of his younger colleagues. (When I questioned him once about using that word, he replied, “I wasn’t using it deliberately, but now that you’ve pointed it out, it is what I believe.”) And he didn’t let his own ego lead him to put his mark on the firm just because he could. “My opinion is that the culture of companies is set very early,” he told me in 2004, “It would have been foolish for me to try to change them much, because it wouldn’t have worked, and it would’ve been bad. It’s sort of a given that this is how the company works now. If you changed it you’d lose all of its great things.”