Google CEO Larry Page is transferring leadership of several core Google product areas to Sundar Pichai, according to news reports. Pichai, who sources say is highly respected within the offices of the tech giant, will now be in charge of research, search, maps, Google+, commerce and ad products and infrastructure. He also will keep his existing responsibility for Android, Chrome and Google Apps. Six executives in charge of newly added product areas who used to report directly to Page will now report to Pichai.
Page (left side) sent a memo to Google staff about the move Friday afternoon. The move seemed to stem from Page's longstanding concern that Google will become less innovative as time passes. In the staff memo reported by Re/code, he wrote that the changes will create less of a bottleneck and also help him focus his attention on existing and new products. Page will continue to directly manage business and operations, including access and energy, Nest, Calico, Google X, corporate development, legal, finance and business, including ad sales.
Pichai has long been one of Google's rising stars, adding several important Google businesses to his portfolio. While it's not clear whether the promotion is meant to groom him as heir-apparent to Page, it is a notable move at a company whose management has tended to be in groups rather than concentrating many responsibilities with one person.
At least one observer believes the promotion might be part of a succession plan.
"Page is slowly delegating much of his day-to-day responsibilities to others," said San Jose, California-based tech analyst Rob Enderle when we reached him. "In effect, he is slowly managing himself out of the company. The people he is promoting appear talented and competent, having tested them in the crucible that is Google."
Pichai, 42, earned his spurs at Google by managing Chrome, first the browser and then the OS and line of netbooks. He picked up his first additional unit in 2012, when Google Apps head Dave Girouard left the company. Pichai took over Android a year later when Andy Rubin stepped down.
Legal Battles Coming?
Before he arrived at Google in 2004, Pichai worked at Applied Materials and also at McKinsey & Co., and attended the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University and the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur. Twitter has tried to recruit him, and he's been mentioned during executive searches at Microsoft.
Whatever Pichai's increased role turns out to be, Enderle speculated that part of the reason for the move was to better situate Google for coming legal hassles.
"There are increasing concerns that antitrust and intellectual property theft problems may eventually hit the company harder than they hit Microsoft in the 1990s," Enderle said. "Page is likely setting up to be able to distance himself from both when they hit."