Eric Schmidt Out as Google CEO

Odd Anderson/AFP/Getty Images

Co-founder Larry Page takes over the top spot, while Schmidt will focus on the role of executive chairman.

NEW YORK - Google is shaking up its top ranks.

The Internet giant on Thursday said Eric Schmidt will step down from the CEO post and focus on the role of executive chairman, with co-founder Larry Page, currently president of products, taking over day-to-day operations as CEO as of April 4.

The company said the goal of the surprise executive change, the biggest at the Web firm since Schmidt joined it as CEO in 2001, is “to streamline decision making and create clearer lines of responsibility and accountability at the top of the company.”

Co-founder Sergey Brin, who has carried the title of president of technology, will focus on strategic projects, in particular new products, one of his key passions, as he said on a conference calls. Some observers immediately suggested he focus on improving the company's earnings Webcast given that Thursday's earnings call online had repeated sound outages.

Schmidt, long seen as the paternal advisor or supervisor of the Google founders, will focus on deals, partnerships, customers, government outreach and technology thought leadership. Internally, he will continue to act as an advisor to the co-founders, Google said. In a tweet, Schmidt said: "Day-to-day adult supervision no longer needed!"

"For the last 10 years, we have all been equally involved in making decisions," Schmidt said in a blog post. "This triumvirate approach has real benefits in terms of shared wisdom, and we will continue to discuss the big decisions among the three of us. But we have also agreed to clarify our individual roles so there’s clear responsibility and accountability at the top of the company."

On a conference call, Schmidt said the three executives tend to agree on all key issues and they remain best friends, and he doesn't expect the new titles and roles to change much in terms of Google's strategy and focus. However, he predicted responsibilities will be divided more clearly, and the company will become more effective and reduce delays in decisions.

"We've been talking about how best to simplify our management structure and speed up decision making for a long time,” echoed Schmidt in a statement. “By clarifying our individual roles we'll create clearer responsibility and accountability at the top of the company. In my clear opinion, Larry is ready to lead and I'm excited about working with both him and Sergey for a long time to come."

Said Page: "Eric has clearly done an outstanding job leading Google for the last decade. The results speak for themselves. There is no other CEO in the world that could have kept such headstrong founders so deeply involved and still run the business so brilliantly.”
He added: “Google still has such incredible opportunity--we are only at the beginning and I can't wait to get started."

Google announced the management change in its fourth-quarter earnings report that saw it post a profit of $2.54 billion, up from $1.97 billion in the same quarter a year ago, on revenue of $8.44 billion, up 26 percent. The results beat Wall Street expectations. For the full year 2010, it recorded a profit of $8.5 billion, while revenue amounted to $29.3 billion.

Before the news of the management shake-up, Google shares closed down slightly at $626.77, but they rose slightly in after-hours, inching closer to the stock's 52-week high of $642.96.