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Exclusive: Google CEO Larry Page Reorgs Staff, Anoints Sundar Pichai as New Product Czar

Sources said the company co-founder has told staff that he wants to focus on the "bigger picture" at the tech giant.

Asa Mathat

In a significant reorganization of Google management, CEO Larry Page is transferring leadership of core Google products to Sundar Pichai, according to sources close to the situation.

Google sent a memo to staff about the move this afternoon, explaining the changes.

It’s a very big portfolio for one of Page’s senior product lieutenants and a fast-rising company executive. The highly respected Pichai will now have purview over research, search, maps, Google+, commerce and ad products and infrastructure. And he will continue to keep his existing responsibility for Android, Chrome and Google Apps. The six executives in charge of newly added product areas, all of whom previously reported directly to Page, will now report to Pichai.

The move seems born of Page’s concern — which is not new — that Google will become less innovative as it ages. In a memo to staff, he noted that the changes will create less of a bottleneck and also help him focus his attention on existing and new products. That said, he’ll continue to directly manage business and operations, including access and energy (a new unit run by Craig Barratt), Nest, Calico, Google X, corporate development, legal, finance and business (including ad sales).

Sources said Page has said in meetings with staff about the changes that he wants to focus on the “bigger picture” and is unable to do that with so many reports and a myriad of duties related to each product unit.

Interestingly, YouTube is being left out of the centralization effort, with CEO Susan Wojcicki reporting to Page from the largely independent video unit. Wojcicki, of course, is one of Google’s top veteran managers, with the company having been started in her garage. Until recently, she was a top ad products exec. (She will also be appearing at our Code/Mobile event next week in California.)

This is yet another promotion for Pichai, who has been adding key Google businesses to his orbit for years. While sources said that the move is not designed to make him heir apparent to Page, it is still a major milestone for the company’s management, which has long been run by a larger group of execs.

From his beginnings managing Chrome — the browser and then the OS and line of netbooks — Pichai picked up his first additional unit in March 2012, when Google Apps head Dave Girouard left to do a startup. Then, when Andy Rubin stepped down as the longtime leader of Android in March 2013, that high-profile and growing business found its way under Pichai, too.

Although Android and Chrome are distinct operating systems, it made sense because Pichai was in charge of the Google units that had developer ecosystems, and the well-liked exec is seen as an ambassador and partnership maker.

And along the way, Pichai has also become more widely recognized outside of Google. Twitter tried to recruit him several years ago for a key product role, and his name was prominently raised in the search for a new CEO of Microsoft.

Pichai was born in 1972 in Chennai, India. Before he arrived at Google in 2004, he 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.

Now, he’s reached his highest spot as yet, effectively becoming SVP of all Google products. But sources said he’s not getting a title change for now.

Does this mean there’s a flight risk for the executives that formerly reported to Page and are now being layered under Pichai?

Probably not. Most are longtime Google loyalists, including: Alan Eustace in research (who was literally on top of the world this very morning breaking the high-altitude parachuting record); Amit Singhal in search; Dave Besbris in social; Jen Fitzpatrick in maps (this was a recent promotion, but she’s been at the company since 1999); Sridhar Ramaswamy on ads and commerce; and Urs Hölzle on technical infrastructure.

What’s remarkable is almost everyone in that group has been at Google more than a decade. Besbris is the newest recruit — he joined Google in 2008.

Page has a predilection for rewarding longtime loyalists. Just last week, it was announced that Omid Kordestani — who led Google’s business from 1999 to 2009 — would become the permanent chief business officer. He’d been the interim replacement for Nikesh Arora, who left for SoftBank this summer. Instead of promoting from within or recruiting from outside, Page brought one of the key members of the old guard back. Kordestani, though, will be reporting to Page.

It’s been interesting to watch Page, one of the most prominent founder-CEOs in tech, as he has evolved his leadership configuration, which he has done a few times since taking over more than three years ago. And despite this change, he still remains Google’s top product guru — and, of course, Pichai reports to Page.

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