Eric Schmidt said Thursday that he is stepping down in January from his role as executive chairman of Alphabet, the parent company of Google, and will begin serving in a more limited capacity as a technical adviser.
Although he will keep a position on the board, the announcement marks the end of an era — both for Schmidt, who was brought on in 2001, and for the company, which underwent a major restructuring in 2015. That transition saw Google separate its traditional operations, such as search, Gmail and YouTube, from some of its more ambitious and costly ventures, including its experiments in health care and new technology.
Schmidt said Thursday that he felt confident stepping aside after having successfully overseen Google's evolution into Alphabet.
“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,” he said in a statement.
Schmidt joined Google at a time of rapid growth. Its founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, had just a few years earlier launched a disruptive search engine and were viewed as fresh-faced newcomers to the tech sector. The two openly acknowledged to the San Francisco Chronicle at the time that they lacked guidance from an experienced businessman.
“He's going to be a bit of [a] chaperone, providing adult supervision,” Brin told the Chronicle.
Schmidt had been a veteran of the networking software company Novell and, before that, Sun Microsystems. He took over as Google's chairman and soon became its chief executive, becoming closely involved in the company's day-to-day business and helping to oversee the roughly 200 employees who worked there. By the time he changed roles again in 2011 and became executive chairman, Google had launched the Android mobile operating system and a browser named Chrome. It was also rapidly expanding its online video footprint and making key investments in self-driving cars that would soon spur the automotive industry to do the same.
Schmidt himself marked the occasion with a cheeky reference to the company's earlier days, saying he now felt Page was “ready to lead.”
“Day-to-day adult supervision no longer needed!” Schmidt said in a tweet.
Now, it seems, his chameleon-like role at the company he has helped lead for 17 years is about to take another turn.
Alphabet said it will appoint a new chairman next year.