Eric Schmidt Steps Down As Alphabet Chairman

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

After helping turning Google into a technology titan, Eric Schmidt steps down from his central role

Eric Schmidt is to step down as the executive chairman of Alphabet’s board of directors, and concentrate more on his philanthropy work.

Google’s parent company Alphabet made the announcement on Thursday, and said that Schmidt will continue to serve on its board and will act as a technical advisor going forward.

Schmidt was hugely instrumental in guiding Google from a tiny startup in California, into the global business it is today.

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Stepping Down

Alphabet said it anticipates that the board will appoint a non-executive chairman, but did not give a timeframe.

Google’s management said that it apparently felt the time was right for Schmidt to take a step back from the company he helped nurture.

“Since 2001, Eric has provided us with business and engineering expertise and a clear vision about the future of technology,” said Larry Page, CEO of Alphabet. “Continuing his 17 years of service to the company, he’ll now be helping us as a technical advisor on science and technology issues.”

And on the surface (at least) it seems that Schmidt also felt he should step down.

“Larry, Sergey, Sundar and I all believe that the time is right in Alphabet’s evolution for this transition,” said Eric Schmidt. “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,” said Schmidt.

Joining Google

62-year-old Schmidt had previously worked at Bell Labs and Xerox, and then at Sun Microsystems for more than a decade.

However he had a much less successful stint in charge of networking giant Novell from 1997 to 2001.

Despite that, Schmidt was hired by Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 2001 to run a startup called Google as its chief executive.

Schmidt was the sensible one who ran the company, and his role was what all three jokingly referred to as the “adult supervision.”

In 2004 he successfully oversaw the hugely successful initial public offering (IPO), despite the world being hugely wary of tech IPOs after the dot-com bust.

Success, Failure

But that IPO turned Google into one of the world’s most valuable companies, and Alphabet now has a market cap of $741 billion, and is expected to surpass $100 billion in annual revenue.

But Schmidt has been richly rewarded for his work. Indeed, according to Forbes, Schmidt is currently the 119th-richest person in the world, with a fortune worth $13.8 billion, much of which is down to his Alphabet stock.

Schmidt also guided the Android operating system during the key years of the modern smartphone era, and helped turn Android into the most widely used mobile operating system in the world.

Another Schmidt success was overseeing the huge corporate restructuring of Google in 2015, until it eventually became a business unit of the holding company Alphabet, whose holdings now include Google, YouTube, Nest and Waymo.

Schmidt remained as chief executive of Google until 2011 when he stepped down and  Larry Page took over as CEO.

But Schmidt retained his role as chairman of the board of directors.

Global Ambassador

This role saw Schmidt travel the world as Google’s global ambassador and provide input on technology matters.

Eric Schmidt in North Korea
Eric Schmidt in North Korea

He also negotiated with governments on regulatory matters, and was reportedly instrumental in convincing the US Federal Trade Commission not to pursue antitrust actions against Google in the United States.

He did however fail to convince the European Union on this matter, and Schmidt did have some other notable failures.

In 2014 he took personal responsibility for his company’s failure to anticipate the growing importance of social networks.

Another problem for Schmidt came when Google (and Apple) was hit with a class action lawsuit in 2011 alleging that Schmidt and Apple’s Steve Jobs had conspired to keep wages down by not hiring each others employees. The suit was settled for $415 million in 2015.

Google has also been hit with lawsuits alleging that it pays women less than men.

But there can be not doubt that Schmidt was instrumental in turning Google into the global powerhouse that it is today. And for that, he will always be remembered.

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