For the past 17 years, one man has sat at the top of the pyramid that is today known as Alphabet, and was once known as Google: Eric Schmidt. He joined the company in 2001 as the executive chairman of the board of directors, but was quickly made CEO. After Larry Page's return to the company and claiming of the CEO title, Schmidt returned to the executive chairman role, where he has stayed since.
This week, the company announced that, as of the January meeting of the board of directors, Eric Schmidt would be stepping away from the executive chairman position. He will not be leaving the company, however, instead remaining on the board and taking a position of technical advisor. No interim chairman has been announced, and the company has decided that a new chairman would no longer retain the executive position, but instead simply chair the board.
Schmidt has overseen big changes at the company, including the restructuring that resulted in the renaming of the corporation to Alphabet. He brought Android and Nest under the company's umbrella, and made Chrome OS a force, even if only in education. He also oversaw flops, such as the Google+ integration into YouTube and Google Buzz, which was a privacy nightmare.
Speaking about the transition and its timing, Schmidt said,
Larry (Page), Sergey (Brin), Sundar (Pichai), and I all believe that the time is right in Alphabet's evolution for this transition. 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.
While one explanation is that he wants to spend his life like Bill Gates, creating foundations and changing the world, it's hard to ignore the timing. Google and Amazon have become vocal, public enemies, fighting on everything from online product assortments to YouTube availability. Countries all over the world, including their home base of the United States, have begun to grow distrustful of the company and its intentions. There are no strong indications that Schmidt might have been asked to leave his position because of the company's hardships, but with waning trust from consumers, the industry and global governments, a change like this would not be unreasonable.