John Paczkowski

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PageYank: As New SVPs Are Born at Google in CEO Reorg, What Happens to the Old Ones?

Things are sure shaking over at Google, since the sudden departure on Monday of Jonathan Rosenberg, Google’s head of product management and one of its most senior executives.

While his exit was portrayed as friendly all around, sources with knowledge of the dicey situation said that was definitely not the case.

Instead, moving aside Rosenberg was newly installed CEO and Co-founder Larry Page’s first parry at remaking the search giant in his own image.

Moving management chairs around is one of the tried-and-true way new leaders often try to effect that kind of dramatic change and several sources said Page has been tossing them about rather than just rearranging them.

That was certainly clear in last night’s knighting of six new SVP titles upon a group of execs, all very close to Page.

The promoted in new business units: Sundar Pichai, SVP of Chrome; Vic Gundotra, SVP of social; Andy Rubin SVP of mobile; Salar Kamangar SVP of YouTube and video; Alan Eustace SVP of search; Susan Wojcicki SVP of ads.

Of them, Eustace was previously an SVP, in charge of engineering and research, and Wojcicki had recently held the title SVP of product management.

It’s all the next step in Page’s overhauling the company’s management structure, as I reported in this column earlier this week was in the works.

As I wrote:

The main theme that seems to be emerging: An elimination of Google’s more centralized functional structure–where Rosenberg was one of several manager kingpins–to one in which the individual business units and their engineers, such as its most independent Android division, rule more autonomously.

Reimagined like this, Google would become an ambidextrous organization with more powerful unit line execs, mostly engineers, doing what needs to be done to succeed, less burdened by the need to vet every little effort through various managers of Google’s powerful operating committee.

This, of course, brings into focus that fates of several other SVPs on the formal management structure list on Google’s Web site and still serving on that OC.

Leaving Eustace off, since he has a new SVP title, they are: Nikesh Arora, SVP and Chief Business Officer; David Drummond SVP, Corporate Development, and Chief Legal Officer; Shona Brown, SVP, Business Operations; and Patrick Pichette, SVP and Chief Financial Officer.

How their roles evolve or do not–all might stay as is, of course–will be the next interesting part of what I am calling PageYank:

Nikesh Arora:

In a widely read column earlier this week, investing gadfly Eric Jackson argued that Arora is probably the most vulnerable of all the senior executives at the company.

The high-profile Arora is well known both inside and outside the company as both highly ambitious and consistently pugnacious.

While that is not necessarily a bad thing to be, that style has garnered him some criticism and he is often referred to as “Darth Vader” among detractors (and even some supporters).

Still, Arora has been a consistent producer of results over his tenure, which might be all that matters. In fact, it might also make him an attractive candidate for a CEO job outside Google.

But, perhaps most important right now though, is that Arora is “definitely not part of Larry’s inner circle,” said one source, adding “and that’s a very important place to be right now.”

Incidentally, that inner circle currently seems to consist of many of those promoted last night–Kamangar, Rubin, Pichai and Gundotra–as well as search leads Udi Manber and Amit Singhal and, of course, Co-founder Sergey Brin.

And not, it seems, Arora.

David Drummond:

With Kent Walker recently promoted to an SVP title, along with being Google’s general counsel, does the company need a Chief Legal Officer or does it need to winnow down another layer of management?

As one source told me, “Why do you need a Drummond, when you’ve got a Walker?” It’s a fair point.

While also in charge of both public policy and corporate development, Drummond has been known more for benign absence at Google than for aggressive presence.

Some also suggest that the affable exec, who has been at Google since early on and is presumably very wealthy, might also not want to sign up for the long-term commitment that Page now expects of his top managers.

Shona Brown:

Before she came to Google, Brown spent a decade consulting for McKinsey and is widely credited with optimizing Google’s internal structure.

But Page is not a McKinsey guy and he’s obviously not a big fan of Google’s current management organization anymore.

That might not bode well for the legendarily sharp-elbowed Brown who most sources describe as highly strategic but also as extremely difficult to work with.

Still, if Page is tinkering with the way Google is organized, Brown might also be the one he turns to find a new structure.

That said, he seems to be fine doing it on his own and some suggest Brown will move to another role within the company rather than leaving.

Not all agree.

Said one source: “I wouldn’t be shocked to see Shona go. Frankly, I’m surprised she survived as long as she did, but then I didn’t think Rosenberg would last this long either.”

But, said another about Brown, who has previously taken time off from Google and returned: “I’d never count Shona out.”

Patrick Pichette:

He’s not going anywhere, as far as I can tell. The friendly and erudite Pichette is widely admired at the company and by Page–the most important admirer of all at Google these days.

He’s also been a smart and stable presence on earnings calls and does a job with Wall Street analysts and investors that Page is pretty much uninterested in and–more to the point–completely incapable of doing well.

Let’s be honest about the socially awkward CEO: Page’s frequently prickly and robotic style makes Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg look like Cary Grant.

Pichette stays.

As for everyone else, as Page reaches even further down into the organization at Google, it will be interesting to see where the next chair will fall.

One thing is clearest of all: Page is positioning himself as the centerpoint of the entire company.

Because make no mistake, these new autonomous divisions all report to him, in a system that mimics Apple and its legendary leader Steve Jobs.

A tough act to follow, to be sure.


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— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald