Eric Schmidt to Step Down as Alphabet’s Executive Chairman

Posted December 21, 2017 6:43 p.m. EST
Updated December 21, 2017 6:48 p.m. EST

Eric Schmidt, who was brought to Google in 2001 to provide what amounted to adult supervision for the company’s young founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, is stepping down as executive chairman of the internet search giant’s parent, Alphabet, the company said on Thursday.

Schmidt, who helped take Google public in 2004 and build it into a colossus, will relinquish the executive chairman role at Alphabet’s next board meeting, in January. He will continue to be a member of the company’s board and become a technical adviser, Alphabet said.

No reason was provided for the change. In a statement, Schmidt said that he, Page, Brin and Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, “believe that the time is right in Alphabet’s evolution for this transition.”

The shift underlines how Schmidt’s influence at Alphabet has waned over time, and especially in the past year, according to people familiar with the company, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on behalf of the company.

Schmidt is symbolic of an older generation of Google executive. The company has promoted or brought in new executives in recent years, including Pichai and Ruth Porat, the chief financial officer who was hired from Morgan Stanley.

After Schmidt became executive chairman in 2011, he played a go-between for the company in Washington. During President Barack Obama’s administration, Schmidt, who has supported many Democratic politicians, prominently represented Google on policy matters. He also gave money and technical assistance to Hillary Clinton’s campaign team during the 2016 presidential race.

But since President Donald Trump came to office, that has changed.

Schmidt, 62, has been eclipsed in Washington by other figures at Google, including Max Pappas, a longtime political operative who has a relationship with Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers who support conservative causes, said some of the people familiar with the company. In the meantime, Google is under fire, along with other tech giants, as legislators seek to deal with the perceived monopolies these companies have.

In a time of heightened scrutiny on workplace behavior and sexual harassment, Schmidt’s personal life has also attracted attention. While he is married, he has brought a series of girlfriends to corporate events over the years.

And most recently, Schmidt thrust Google into a negative spotlight when he pushed the head of the New America Foundation to punish one of its scholars, Barry Lynn, for applauding the European Union’s decision to levy a record $2.7 billion fine against Google.

Google has donated more than $21 million to the New America Foundation and helped make the foundation one of the most influential policy voices in progressive politics. After the incident, Schmidt lost some of the cache he had built up in government circles, according to two people with knowledge of the incident.