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Eric Versus Larry Versus Sundar: How Have Google's CEOs Fared on the Street?

A look at the figures under Google's three CEOs.

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For six months now, Google has had a CEO who is not one of its longtime triumvirate of execs.

And Wall Street is okay with that.

More than okay, actually. Google’s stock was bruised along with other tech stocks on Friday, but it has still climbed nearly 8 percent since Sundar Pichai was anointed CEO in August with the formation of Alphabet.

 Google CEO Sundar Pichai
Google CEO Sundar Pichai
Asa Mathat

And investors were very pleased with the company’s report last week, which showed the continued strength of its core business under Pichai set aside from other costly ventures.

It’s very “early innings” in Pichai’s tenure, to borrow a phrase he and CFO Ruth Porat used (three times) to describe Google’s business. But it’s still an okay time to begin comparing Pichai — who runs Alphabet’s most profitable, and costly, unit by far — with his two predecessors.

Eric Schmidt

Financials: Schmidt, now Alphabet executive chairman, is the longest-serving CEO — stepping in as the “adult supervision” in 2001, then handing the reins back to co-founder Larry Page a decade later. Schmidt steered the company through its rocky IPO and the financial crisis (barely a wince for Google) to its status as market behemoth.

Gross revenue went from $3.2 billion in 2003 to $29 billion in 2010, Schmidt’s final year as chief exec. Spending went up even more, with Google showing Wall Street it was unafraid to deploy capital expenditure on things like data centers and employees.

Eric's Trip

Acquisitions: Under Schmidt, a dogged adversary of Microsoft, Google made several of the purchases most critical to Google today — Android, YouTube and Keyhole, a cornerstone of Maps. There were some misses while chasing Facebook. (Remember Jambool, makers of “Social Gold”? I sure didn’t.) But those were likely outweighed by the value created for Google from ad acquisitions DoubleClick and AdMob.

Larry Page

Financial: Introverted, enigmatic, perennial engineer and pipe dreamer — Alphabet CEO Page is, on paper, the opposite of a Wall Street friendly CEO. (He stopped showing up on earnings calls in the fall of 2013.)

But you’d be hard-pressed to find an investor disappointed with his tenure. Google’s stock price more than doubled and its total sales grew by 74 percent during his four years.

Some shareholders might gripe about Page’s tightening grip on the company. In 2014, Google’s stock split into Class A and non-voting Class C shares, a plan unmasked in Page’s second year as public CEO, further cementing the control over the company of the ruling trio — Page, Schmidt and Sergey Brin.

Larry's Time

Acquisitions: In his first few years, Page continued Schmidt’s quest for social companies, buying a string of teams and shuttling them inside the doomed Google+ effort. But then, around 2013, Page shifted. He began turning Google’s corporate development team to the moonshots — like wind energy startup Makani, Nest, Skybox Imaging and DeepMind — that laid the groundwork for the Alphabet reorg.

Sundar Pichai

Financials: Although he was named CEO in August, Pichai didn’t officially take over until October. Yet he had been ostensibly running Google’s core products for a year prior, as Page stepped back to do Alphabet stuff. Financial-wise, Pichai has had a pretty enviable start.

In 2015, Google has topped earnings expectations each quarter and clocked in net revenue growth of 10.2 percent. Overall cap ex, however, slowed on a year-on-year basis for the first time since 2008, perhaps more of an indication of the strive to show spending discipline under Alphabet than Pichai’s leadership.

Sundar's Google

Acquisitions: Over the past year, Google has slowed its acquisitive streak too, although it has twice swooped in to scoop up the bulk of the engineers from a flailing company — a move that is not technically an acquisition, but sort of is. The outright acquisitions in 2015 reflected Pichai’s priorities: Mobile product pickups, like streaming service Agawi and photo editing software Fly Labs, as well as virtual reality startups.

Far more important was the $380 million doled out for Bebop and Diane Greene, Google’s new boss for enterprise.

With a few tech valuations sputtering (hi there, Twitter), some are waiting for Google to come to the rescue. It’s possible. But it may be more likely that Google will pay for innovators in machine learning, virtual reality or the cloud, all which Pichai mentioned frequently on the earnings call. One word he didn’t say: Social.

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