Levinson resigns from Google board

The close boardroom ties between Google and Apple were loosened further on Monday as Art Levinson, a director of both companies for five years, quit the board of the internet group with immediate effect.

His departure comes amid a Federal Trade Commission inquiry of the board-level links between the two companies.

Eric Schmidt, chief executive of Google, resigned his position on the Apple board two months ago, after earlier saying that he had no intention of giving up his seat as a director.

In spite of the end of direct boardroom overlap between two of Silicon Valley’s most influential companies, the two still enjoy some un­usual high-level links. Former US vice-president Al Gore and Intuit chairman Bill Campbell both continue to sit on the Apple board while also serving as senior advisers to Google.

The competition between the two companies made it inappropriate for them to remain advisers to Google, said Charles Elson, a professor of corporate governance at the University of Delaware. “Their legal obligation is clearly to Apple,” he added. “They have to choose their loyalties.”

Google confirmed that both men remain advisers to the company, but refused to comment further on their role.

Apple referred questions about their involvement to Google.

The abrupt departure of Mr Levinson signals an apparent change of heart at the search company in recent days.

Less than two weeks ago, Mr Schmidt said that he did not believe Mr Levinson, a former chief executive of Genentech, needed to give up his directorship at either company.

Mr Schmidt argued that the businesses in which Google and Apple have overlapping interests generate revenues that fall below the threshold for antitrust concerns.

In a brief statement from Google, Mr Schmidt gave no explanation for the change of direction.

“Art has been a key part of Google’s success these past five years, offering unvarnished advice and vital counsel on every big issue and opportunity Google has faced,” he was quoted as saying. “Though he leaves as a member of our board, Art will always have a special place at Google.”

Until August, Mr Schmidt had argued that limited competition between Apple and Google should not force the two companies to unwind their close connections, in spite of the regulatory enquiry.

He said that he excused himself from Apple board meetings where mobile issues were discussed. He later stepped down from the Apple board after Google announced plans to create its own computer operating system, Chrome OS.

News of Mr Levinson’s departure from the Google board came in the wake of the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to launch a further enquiry into the internet company. Last week, the regulatory body asked for more information about the workings of its Google Voice service. That followed a complaint from AT&T, which said that Google Voice did not connect callers to some services which charge a high connection fee, in contrast to traditional telecommunications companies which are required to make connections to all services.

Job Leibowitz, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, said later that the agency had now ended its investigation, and commended the companies for ”their willingness to resolve our concerns without the need for litigation.”

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