Google insiders say they're unhappy with its risk-averse style as the company grows, with 36 VPs quitting in a year

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Google insiders say they're unhappy with its risk-averse style as the company grows, with 36 VPs quitting in a year
Google CEO Sundar Pichai testifies before the House Judiciary Committee in 2018 Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
  • Google's CEO is facing criticism from senior employees frustrated by his "risk-averse" leadership.
  • The New York Times found that more than 30 Google VPs had quit in the past year.
  • Others defended CEO Sundar Pichai's decision-making and willingness to shut down "vanity projects."

Google's chief executive, Sundar Pichai, reportedly faces a management challenge as a portion of his senior leadership grows restive.

The New York Times reported on Monday that current and former senior leaders had criticized the firm's increasingly risk-averse style and that more than 30 vice presidents had quit in a year.

Citing 15 current and former execs, The Times said this layer of leadership thought that the firm had become too bureaucratic and that Pichai played it too safe.

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"Google's lack of courage with its diversity problem is ultimately what evaporated my passion for the job," David Baker, a former director of engineering who worked at the company for 16 years, told The Times. "The more secure Google has become financially, the more risk averse it has become."

Pichai took the reins in 2015 from Google's cofounder Larry Page.

In that time, some of the company's dirty laundry has been aired, including the disputed firing of its ethical-AI lead Timnit Gebru in December, antitrust investigations in the US and the EU, and internal conflict over its military contracts with the Pentagon.

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After more than 2,000 employees signed a petition rebuking Gebru's firing, Pichai promised to restore trust within the company. His message has been somewhat undermined by an increasingly outspoken and newly organized workforce.

The Times said it analyzed LinkedIn profile updates and found that 36 Google VPs had quit in the past 12 months, accounting for almost a tenth of such executives at the company.

The paper described a 2018 email to Pichai signed by more than a dozen VPs as saying that the company was experiencing "significant growing pains," that there were "problems coordinating technical decisions," and that their feedback "was often disregarded."

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One former exec told the paper that the tech giant's innovation malaise was exemplified by an attitude to research and development in which it can place projects in "pantry mode," ready to announce only when it needs to react to competition.

Others were keen to defend Pichai's leadership.

"Would I be happier if he made decisions faster? Yes," Caesar Sengupta, who was a Google VP for 15 years, told The Times. "But am I happy that he gets nearly all of his decisions right? Yes."

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Another former Google VP, Aparna Chennapragada, who left to work for the trading app Robinhood in April, praised Pichai for being willing to make unpopular decisions and for cutting down on the company's "vanity projects."

In January, Google's parent company, Alphabet, announced that it was shutting down Loon, a spin-off that hoped to make broadband more accessible using solar-powered balloons. The company had shut down other moonshot projects such as Makani, which aimed to use kites to generate power, and Project Foghorn, a fuel alternative.

Google and its sister companies have also grown substantially. At the end of Pichai's first year as CEO, Alphabet had 72,053 full-time employees. At the end of 2020, that number had grown to 135,301.

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Google did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

Are you a current or former Googler with more to share? You can contact this reporter securely using the encrypted messaging app Signal (+447801985586) or email (mcoulter@businessinsider.com). Reach out using a nonwork device.

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