Google Shakeup: Schmidt Out, Page In As CEO

In a wholly unexpected move, Eric Schmidt is stepping away from his position as Google CEO to make room for co-founder Larry Page. Schmidt move into an Executive Chairman role. But why now?

According to Schmidt:

For the last 10 years, we have all been equally involved in making decisions. This triumvirate approach has real benefits in terms of shared wisdom, and we will continue to discuss the big decisions among the three of us. But we have also agreed to clarify our individual roles so there's clear responsibility and accountability at the top of the company.

Larry will now lead product development and technology strategy, his greatest strengths, and starting from April 4 he will take charge of our day-to-day operations as Google's Chief Executive Officer. In this new role I know he will merge Google's technology and business vision brilliantly.

The third leg of the triumvirate, Sergey Brin, will take the title of Co-Founder, focusing on new products.

That's the official statement. But Schmidt hinted at what's really going on in his tweet announcing the news:

Day-to-day adult supervision no longer needed! http://goo.gl/zC89pThu Jan 20 21:07:30 via web

It's hard to imagine that Schmidt ever saw himself as just a placeholder, particularly having been with Google for a decade. And realistically, Schmidt will continue fulfilling most of his "adult" duties in his new capacity, focusing "on the deals, partnerships, customers and broader business relationships, government outreach and technology thought leadership that are increasingly important given Google's global reach". You know, grown-up stuff.

That's increasingly been Schmidt's primary function anyway; now it's his sole obligation. And in today's earnings call, Schmidt explicitly said he didn't expect "any material change in any of [Google's]strategies".

If anything, it could really be that Page has outgrown some of his immaturity - he once famously brushed off Barry Diller in a meeting in favor of playing with phone - and is ready to be more forward-facing. But by all accounts, Page has always been deeply involved in the direction of the company. The new title shouldn't make him any more or less so. It's just that: a title.

Remember, too, that Page was Google's original CEO, having served in that position from 1998-2001. Growing the company is something he's intimately familiar with and capable of; if anything, Google's engineers should have even more freedom to innovate. [Google]