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Google Co-Founders Stepping Away

Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the former Stanford University students who founded Google in a Silicon Valley garage said Tuesday they are stepping aside as leaders of the internet behemoth they started two decades ago. They're handing the reins to longtime executive Sundar Pichai, who will take over as CEO of Google's parent company Alphabet, in addition to maintaining his current responsibilities as chief executive of the search giant.

The announcement comes four years after Google restructured itself under an umbrella company called Alphabet. As part of the 2015 move, Google's internet businesses, including its search engine and maps app, were separated from more experimental projects like driverless cars. Pichai became CEO of Google, and Page and Brin controlled Alphabet.

Now Pichai, an Indian immigrant who joined the company in 2004, is in charge of it all, sort of. The co-founders voting power over the company's shares give them majority control. Page and Brin, both 46, said they would stay active as board members but didn't say anything else about how they'll be spending their time in the future.

"With Alphabet now well-established, and Google and the Other Bets operating effectively as independent companies, it's the natural time to simplify our management structure," Page and Brin said in a joint statement.  

"I'm excited about Alphabet and its long term focus on tackling big challenges through technology," Pichai, 47, said in a statement. "I'm looking forward to continuing to work with Larry and Sergey in our new roles." 

Pichai also tweeted that Alphabet had a "timeless mission."

Google didn't make Page, Brin or Pichai available for interviews. 

Pichai's ascension comes as Google and Alphabet face scrutiny from all sides. The company is a target of antitrust probes by both federal and state officials, and European regulators. Google is also in the midst of some of its greatest cultural challenges. A year ago, employees walked off the job to protest management's perceived weakness in handling allegations of sexual misconduct at the search giant. They've complained about Google's contract with the Pentagon to develop artificial intelligence and its proposed work on a search engine for China, known as Project Dragonfly.

As if to highlight the growing conflict over Google's open culture, four former employees said they planned to file charges of unfair labor practices on the same day Brin and Page said they were stepping aside. The former employees, who were fired in November, accused Google of "engaging in protected labor organizing." Google said the employees were fired for violating data security policies, not organizing.

Alphabet board chairman John Hennessy applauded the work Page and Brin did as founders. "It's impossible to overstate Larry and Sergey's contributions over the past 21 years. I'm grateful that they will continue their involvement on the Board."

The change in leadership isn't the first at the company. Page and Brin tapped Eric Schmidt, who formerly ran software maker Novell, to run Google in 2001 and to oversee the company as it went public three years later. Under Schmidt, the company expanded beyond search into mobile phones, internet transmission and online video.

Brin and Page referenced the earlier leadership change in their letter. "We've never been ones to hold on to management roles when we think there's a better way to run the company," the pair wrote.

Wall Street wasn't fazed by the changing of the guard. The company's stock rose a little less than one percent in after hours training.

Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, said Pichai was the natural choice and had become the public face of the search giant after Page gave up day-to-day management. "He's done a great job at Google even though Google is under tremendous scrutiny," Bajarin said of Pichai's performance. 

Though Page and Brin are Silicon Valley royalty, they have been sharply criticized for receding into the background during the most tumultuous time in the company's history. When leaders from Facebook and Twitter were summoned before Congress last year, Page and Pichai were no shows. An empty seat with a name reading "Google" sat next to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandburg.

As Pichai deals with the company's controversies, he'll also focus the company on AI technology and making its services more helpful and personalized for consumers. "Think of it as building your own individual Google," he told CNET in 2016, before making his debut as CEO at the company's annual developer conference.

Throughout their letter, Brin and Page compared Google and its development to a person's growth. Today, the co-founders said, Google would be 21, ready to leave the roost. "While it has been a tremendous privilege to be deeply involved in the day-to-day management of the company for so long," the pair wrote, "we believe it's time to assume the role of proud parents, offering advice and love, but not daily nagging!"

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