Eric Schmidt, the experienced tech hand who was brought in as “adult supervision” in the early days of Google to make up for the youth of its twenty-something founders, is to leave the board of parent company Alphabet.
He had already stepped back from management, giving up the title of chief executive to make way for co-founder Larry Page in 2011, and dropped the title of executive chairman at the beginning of last year.
His departure comes as part of a minor reshuffle on the Alphabet board that will reduce the influence of former executives and increase the proportion of independent directors. However, thanks to a triple-class share structure, it remains fully under the control of founders Mr Page and Sergey Brin, who could see their share of votes in the company increase following the changes.
In recent years, as Google came under growing regulatory and political scrutiny, Mr Schmidt became an international emissary for the company, acting as its public face while Mr Page, who shuns the limelight, remained in the background.
His influence was at its greatest in the Obama White House, where former political insiders have credited Google with having significant influence over tech policy. But his overt support for Hillary Clinton during her failed presidential bid in 2016 cemented a view in Washington that Google leaned heavily to the Democrats, leaving it politically more exposed after the election.
Since then, it has come under fire from the Trump administration and other Republicans over allegations that it suppresses rightwing views on its search engine and YouTube.
Mr Schmidt’s forthright intervention in policy debates at times threatened to backfire on the company. When privacy first reared its head as an issue that would dog Google, he memorably said: “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”
Diane Greene, the former boss of software company VMware, is also set to step down as a director at Alphabet’s next shareholder meeting, on June 19. Ms Greene, at the time an independent director, was called on in 2015 to run Google’s cloud computing division in an effort to narrow the gap with market leader Amazon. She was replaced at the start of this year, when Google turned to an experienced executive from Oracle to head the division.
Alphabet, which lost almost $70bn in market capitalisation on Tuesday in the wake of a disappointing earnings report, also said that it was nominating Robin Washington, chief financial officer of Gilead Sciences, to its board. At the same time, Gilead said that she planned to retire from her role at the company, from March 1 2020.
The changes reduce “insider” directors — who either are or have been executives — from five to three, while increasing the number of independent directors from six to seven.
Mr Schmidt has sold roughly 70 per cent of the shares he held in Google at the time of its 2004 public listing, but still has a stake worth $5bn. The supervoting Class B shares that make up most of his holding give him 5 per cent of the votes in the company.
If he decides after leaving to sell his shares, under Alphabet’s byelaws they would lose their extra voting rights. That would increase the cushion of voting control enjoyed by Mr Page and Mr Brin as the biggest holders of the Class B shares, with 51.3 per cent of the votes between them.
In a tweet after his departure was announced, Mr Schmidt compared himself to the late Bill Campbell, a renowned Silicon Valley executive coach who acted as an adviser and mentor to a string of tech executives that included Steve Jobs and Sheryl Sandberg, as well as the Google founders.
“After 18 years of board mtgs, I’m following coach Bill Campbell’s legacy &helping the next generation of talent to serve,” he wrote. “Thanks to Larry, Sergey &all my BOD colleagues!”
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