Dec 5, 2019

The CEO's boss

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Justin Sullivan/Getty and Saul Loe/Getty

Being a CEO used to mean something very clear: You were the top dog, answerable only to the collective will of a board of directors. Today's CEOs, by contrast, are often deep down in the org chart, fireable by a boss who in turn is fireable by an even higher-up boss.

The big picture: Regional heads, heads of subsidiaries, heads of business lines — all of them now lay claim to the CEO title. Mark O’Donovan, for instance, is the CEO of Chase Auto, a subsidiary of Chase Manhattan Bank that is itself a subsidiary of JPMorgan Chase.

  • I once reported to a CEO of Gizmodo Media Group, who reported to another CEO of Fusion Media Group, who reported to the chief content officer of Univision, who reported to the CEO of Univision.

Driving the news: Aside from the high-profile shakeup at Alphabet this week, Expedia CEO Mark Okerstrom was fired by his boss, Barry Diller, who really runs the company.

  • Kelly Loeffler, the incoming U.S. senator of Georgia, is currently the CEO of Bakkt, a Bitcoin/cryptocurrency company. She'll give up that job upon taking public office.
  • Bakkt is majority-owned by ICE, which runs huge stock and futures exchanges. Loeffler's current job was really just another in a long line of executive roles she has had at the company.

Alphabet, until this week, had one clear top-dog CEO, Larry Page, and many subsidiary CEOs. Page's direct report Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google, was himself the boss of Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of YouTube.

  • Pichai is now taking over as CEO of Alphabet, while remaining CEO of Google. But Page and his co-founder Sergey Brin retain control of the board through their super-voting shares.
  • Page's $51.8 billion in Alphabet shares carry an average of 5 votes per share. Pichai's $103 million in Alphabet shares, by contrast, carry an average of 0.07 votes per share. (Employees like Pichai generally get paid in non-voting Class C stock.)
  • When Google employees walked out on their jobs last year to protest the handling of sexual harassment at the company, one of their demands was the appointment of an employee representative to the board. Pichai couldn't deliver on that when he was merely the CEO of Google rather than Alphabet. And it's not clear whether he'd be able to deliver on that even now.

The bottom line: Increasingly, today's CEO is merely an executive hired by the person who is really in control.

  • Pichai will have to face the techlash head-on. Page, meanwhile, will get to bask in his billions without any accountability at all.

Go deeper: Sundar Pichai named CEO of Alphabet, Google's parent company

Go deeper

Sundar Pichai named CEO of Alphabet, Google's parent company

Sundar Pichai. Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

Google's parent company, Alphabet, announced Tuesday that Sundar Pichai will take over as CEO of Alphabet in addition to his current role as head of the core Google unit. Pichai will replace Larry Page, who, along with Sergey Brin, will remain "actively involved as shareholders and co-founders."

Why it matters: Page and Brin, who started Google in 1998, have been increasingly invisible in recent years, not even appearing at key Google events.

Go deeperArrowDec 3, 2019

Investors cheer Sundar Pichai as Alphabet's CEO

Data: Factset; Chart: Axios Visuals

The market responded positively in after-hours trading to the announcement that Sundar Pichai will take over as CEO of Alphabet in addition to his current role as head of the core Google unit.

The state of play: Pichai will replace Larry Page, who, along with Google co-founder Sergey Brin, will remain "actively involved as shareholders and co-founders."

Go deeperArrowDec 4, 2019

At Google, twilight of the founders

Sergey Brin and Larry Page in 2002. Photo by Richard Koci Hernandez/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images

Yesterday's announcement that Google's founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, were leaving their executive posts at Google's parent company Alphabet was a surprise only in timing. 

What's happening: Page had stepped back from Google itself in 2015. From their perches at Alphabet — Page as CEO, Brin as president — the two founders oversaw the company's "other bets" on advanced technologies like self-driving cars and drones. Googlers have said that they became less and less a presence inside the company. 

Go deeperArrowDec 4, 2019