With Larry Page and Sergey Brin gone, Google’s ‘open culture’ might be closing


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Larry Page and Sergey Brin produced Google as college student.


When 200 Google employees and their allies held a rally in San Francisco last month, their specified function was combating supposed retaliation by business management versus workers who spoke up versus the search giant. But one protester held up a poster board indication that encapsulated a more comprehensive fight cry: “Save our open culture.”

The search giant’s notoriously freewheeling attitude has actually worn down over the current past as Google grew increasingly more business. On Tuesday, its future fell under higher concern after co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin dropped bombshell news: The renowned set stated they would be stepping aside as leaders of Google moms and dad business Alphabet, leaving Google CEO Sundar Pichai in charge of the whole program.

Founders are constantly carefully related to the cultures of their business. Steve Jobs sealed Apple’s track record for perfectionism. Jeff Bezos produced Amazon’s customer-centric objective. At Google, Page and Brin are human symptoms of — and direct links to — a glamorized open culture that promoted imagination, even if it had no instant advantage for the business.

Page and Brin grounded Google in a values that promoted internal openness, even if it appeared from the outdoors to be as nontransparent as the business’s search algorithm. Employees were motivated to have a look at tasks their colleagues were establishing, something unusual in deceptive Silicon Valley. By business America’s yardstick, the Google environment was borderline anarchic — workers might invest 20% of their time dealing with a side task, in hopes it might end up being Google’s next huge thing. 

The co-founders — buddies from Stanford University who constructed their business in a garage — will stay board members and still have voting control over the business. But some workers currently stress that with Page and Brin formally out of the daily image, the business will feel rudderless in what are certainly rough times. With Page and Brin gone, they question, who will secure Google’s culture?

“Some had seriously hoped Sergey and Larry would step in and fix Google,” staff member organizers at Google tweeted. “Instead of righting the sinking ship, they jumped ship.” 

Google deals with the best difficulties to its culture in its 21-year history. Tensions continue to intensify in between Google management and rank-and-file workers. Activists within the search giant have actually opposed choices by management, consisting of the finalizing of an expert system agreement with the Pentagon and Google’s operate in China. Most significantly, 20,000 workers left of their workplaces last November to oppose management’s handling of sexual attack claims.

As if to highlight the growing dispute over Google’s open culture, 4 previous workers stated they prepared to submit charges of unjust labor practices versus the business on the very same day Brin and Page revealed they’re stepping aside. The previous workers, who were fired in November, implicated Google of sacking them for “engaging in protected labor organizing.” Google stated the workers were fired for breaking information security policies, not arranging.

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At last month’s rally, two of the fired workers, Rebecca Rivers and Laurence Berland, gave speeches condemning management’s reining in of the culture. The two were placed on administrative leave earlier for accessing documents and calendar information that Google says was outside the scope of their jobs.

Still, Google’s internal response to the firings indicated that commitment to the culture has already waned. “This is not how Google’s open culture works or was ever intended to work,” Google’s security team told employees in a memo about the firings. 

‘Ben and Jerry’

In some ways, the change in leadership is both monumental and uneventful. Page and Brin have long been no-shows inside the company, employees and former employees say. The pair used to be mainstays at Google’s famed TGIF meetings, weekly all-company gatherings and one of Google’s most time-honored traditions. 

Page and Brin, though, retreated from the spotlight not long after the Google walkout last November. They skipped every TGIF this year except one in late May. For longtime Google employees who remember the early days, seeing Page and Brin on stage sparked a pang of yearning. “People still have this old-time fondness for them,” said one person who watched the meeting. “They’re like Ben and Jerry.”


Sundar will be the CEO of both Google and Alphabet.

James Martin/CNET

For many at Google, the death knell for Google’s open culture came last month, when Pichai said Google would scale back TGIF to once a month, rather than once a week or biweekly. Pichai said he was making the gatherings less frequent because of a “coordinated effort” to leak comments made at the internal meetings. Instead of being open forums and sounding boards, TGIFs will now be more product-focused. 

“TGIF wasn’t perfect,” Berland, one of the fired employees, said at last month’s rally. “But at least we got the chance to ask the questions.”

Going forward, Pichai could make more changes. “Every CEO wants to put their own stamp on the way they lead, so this is an area to watch as he shifts his role,” said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, though he said he doesn’t see big cultural changes in the short term.

Before Tuesday’s announcement, some employees had hoped the co-founders would take more active roles again. When Google workers held a sit-in in May to protest a “culture of retaliation” against workers who spoke out against the company, they called on Page — not Pichai — to step in. They urged him to “immediately and publicly address the Walkout’s demands, and recommit Google to meeting them.”

The leadership change means Page and Brin’s day-to-day absence has been cemented.

“Seems like it’s already been the case for a while,” a Google employee, who asked to remain unidentified for fear of retribution, told me on Tuesday. “Just now it’s official.”

CNET’s Queenie Wong contributed to this report.