“I don’t think Eric was pushed. I think he jumped,” said Ken Auletta, author of Googled: The End of the World As We Know It. “I think Eric is burned out.”
There have been signs Schmidt would prefer doing something else.
For the first time last year, he started to sit out of Google’s quarterly calls to discuss its earnings.
More recently, he has expressed irritation about how some of his public remarks have been picked apart to support the idea that Google is an arrogant company that can’t be trusted to protect people’s privacy as its search engine and other services collect vast amounts of personal information.
In October, Schmidt drew fire for responding to a hypothetical question posed at a forum in Washington, D.C., about an implant that would let Google know what its users were thinking. He responded that Google’s policy is to “get right up to the creepy line and not cross it,” and an implant would cross the line.
He also said that as users voluntarily share information online, it doesn’t need users to type in search queries for the company to tailor the results. “We don’t need you to type at all. We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about,” he said.
Such comments have been repeated in online musings that portrayed Schmidt and Google as “creepy.”
“The biggest thing I wonder is after a year or so of having various gaffes and statements taken out of context if he decided he no longer wanted to play that front-man role,” said Danny Sullivan, the editor-in-chief of the SearchEngineLand news site.
Schmidt’s role as a government ambassador could be particularly important, because the company is increasingly wrangling with regulators and lawmakers as it tries to expand into new markets even as it faces complaints that it has been abusing its dominance of internet search to thwart competition.
Schmidt, who has been called upon to give economic advice to President Barack Obama before and after he was elected, could be well suited to defuse the concerns in the U.S. He is also expected to play a key role in identifying Google’s takeover targets, which makes sense if he is also going to be addressing antitrust concerns.
Google has plenty of ammunition left to finance its ambitions for this year and beyond. It ended December with $35 billion in cash.
The change in command seemed long overdue to longtime Silicon Valley analyst Rob Enderle.
“Whenever you have a caretaker CEO, they’re supposed to stay in place until the founders have enough experience,” he said. “Larry had enough experience about four years ago.”