Google Pivots Back to Search and Away from Audacious Projects

(p. B1) Sundar Pichai’s appointment this week as chief executive of Google parent Alphabet Inc. effectively shifts the focus back on the company’s advertising profit machine and away from its “moonshots” and other potential new businesses.

Mr. Pichai’s promotion late Tuesday amounted to the biggest managerial overhaul of the internet giant since 2015, when co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin created Alphabet as a parent company above Google. Their goal then was to make Google and its highly profitable advertising businesses just one of many subsidiaries. The stated purpose, as they said in a public letter: “We are still trying to do things other people think are crazy.”

Those goals were on-brand for the two former Stanford University graduate students. They famously celebrated a “don’t be evil” ethos and were working on driverless cars, wearable computers, beating death and a host of other money-losing projects. The idea was to free the duo from the day-to-day at Google, which remains a profit machine, to build out new, world-changing ideas.

Those now include Alphabet’s Waymo unit, which is piloting self-driving car rides, and Calico Labs, which says it’s “tackling aging.”

At least financially, those efforts have yet to amount to much. Google, which includes search, YouTube, the Chrome web browser, hardware and much else, reported $40 billion of revenue in the past quarter alone, with a 23% margin. These areas draw in more than 99% of the parent company’s staggering $155 billion in annual revenue.

The rest of Alphabet eked out $155 million in revenue, and lost $941 million while doing it.

For the full story, see:

Rob Copeland. “Alphabet Backs Off the ‘Crazy,’ Turns to Reliable Model.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, December 6, 2019): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 5, 2019, and has the title “Google Management Shuffle Points to Retreat From Alphabet Experiment.” The online version says that the title of the print edition was “Alphabet Backs Off On Experimentation.” My copy of the print edition had the title “Alphabet Backs Off the ‘Crazy,’ Turns to Reliable Model.”)

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