After a year of unrest at Google, insiders are reacting with a weird lack of emotion to the leadership change (GOOG, GOOGL)


larry page sundar pichai

  • Google cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin stepped down from Google leadership on December 3, and employees say the company hasn’t announced any major changes under new Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai.
  • Pichai has served as Google CEO since 2015, and has largely been the face of the company. Workers say Page and Brin haven’t made public appearances at the company in more than six months.
  • Some workers say they wish Brin and Page expressed more sympathy for employees that had been fired for for violating “data security policies.”
  • A Google spokesperson declined to comment, and referred Business Insider to a public letter from Brin and Page announcing the change.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

After two years of unrest and employee protests inside Google, the sudden departure of founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin has elicited a surprisingly passive, almost apathetic reaction within the company.

The two founders have been a constant presence at Google, from the time they launched the search engine two decades ago to their roles as the top executives at Alphabet, the Google parent company that was formed in 2015. And yet with the many controversies and threats to Google looming larger than ever, the ascension of Sundar Pichai to the Alphabet CEO throne has come with remarkably little celebration, dissent or even self-reflection.

“It feels anticlimactic,” a current worker told Business Insider. “I haven’t seen anything outside of Sundar being in charge of things … internally, it seems as though that’s already the level at which he was mostly operating.”

The internal company message-boards as well as Memegen, the infamous meme-making tool which buzzed with activity during past company happenings, have largely ignored the leadership change. Workers say they’ve been given no real guidance from the company about how Pichai’s new role may change the direction of the $931 billion firm. 

In conversations with Business Insider, current and former workers at Google and Alphabet said that Page and Brin had already seemed almost entirely checked out of the company “for the last couple years,” and that the promotion of Google CEO Sundar Pichai to head the Alphabet parent company seems like a natural progression.

“Sundar’s been running a bang-up job … so that’s not a surprise to me,” said another insider.

What’s not clear is whether the muted reaction to Pichai is a sign of goodwill towards the 47-year-old executive or a sense that Pichai represents an uninterrupted continuation of the Page and Brin status quo, for better and for worse. (Brin and Page will remain members of Alphabet’s board of directors, and retain over half of controlling voting shares of the company.)

Waiting for Brin and Page’s empathy

Brin and Page are revered by Google’s engineers and other staffers for their accomplishments in the tech industry, their influence on the culture of Silicon Valley and for their commitment to innovation.

At the same time though, the founders left the company following mass employee walkouts and internal rifts between workers and management. In November, the company fired a handful of vocal workers — known internally as the “Thanksgiving Four” — for violating “data security policies.” The move sparked a federal investigation into the company for potentially violating federal labor laws. 

sundar pichai google

One employee said he did feel disheartened that Brin and Page left without speaking out for employees. At one point, Brin and Page welcomed employee dissent and made themselves available at weekly all-hands meetings known as “TGIF.” Yet the two were almost completely absent from the meetings in 2019. Last month, Pichai told employees the company would be rethinking the tradition and holding far fewer TGIF meetings going forward. 

“It was unique as a company that you got to interact with your ultra wealthy billionaire owners that didn’t have to interact with you,” an employee said. He added that no one had heard from the co-founders for much of the past year.

“The change was a long time coming”

Pichai is perceived as being business-focused, and one current worker hailed the decision as a good one for the financial health of the company. People “really see Sundar as being very business-orientated,” they said. “Therefore the stock will do well … the bets inside Google will probably get more funding.”

Thomas Kurian, the CEO of Google’s cloud business, was identified by multiple sources as potentially standing to benefit from Pichai’s elevation.

There is some speculation internally that even if things at Google don’t change, Pichai may rein in investments to some of Alphabets various subsidiary companies and the more far-out “moonshot” projects, a group that includes everything from self-driving cars to internet beaming balloons. 

Aside from employee rifts, Pichai also takes the reins at a time when US politicians are calling for greater internet regulation and to break up Alphabet on antitrust grounds. 

But so far, there’s been relatively little communication from Google to workers about what Pichai’s leadership will mean for Alphabet’s direction. Two workers said they hadn’t received any communication from management about Pichai’s promotion beyond the statements that were also made public. 

A Google spokesperson declined to comment, and referred Business Insider to a public letter from Brin and Page announcing the change.

The chatter that has taken place — in Google cafeterias and on internal messaging systems — has mostly reminisced about the positive impact Brin and Page left on the company, and expressed little worry regarding Pichai’s leadership.

“People have made comments and jokes,” an employee said. “But I feel like the change was a long time coming to begin with.”

Do you work for Google? Contact Allana Akhtar at, Twitter DM at @allanaakh, or Signal her at 248-760-0208. Contact Rob Price at +1 (650) 636-6268 using a nonwork phone, Telegram or WeChat at robaeprice, or Twitter DM at @robaeprice.

SEE ALSO: Google fired an engineer who built a tool that notified employees of their labor rights. She’s the 5th employee this month to accuse the company of illegal retaliation.

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