Larry Page to become Google chief executive

Google's founders Larry Page (centre) Sergey Brin (right) and Eric Schmidt in a self-driving car Google is developing

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Google co-founder Larry Page is to become chief executive of the US internet search giant in April.

He will take over from Eric Schmidt, who has been in the job for a decade and will become executive chairman.

Google said Mr Schmidt would focus on "deals, partnerships, customers and broader business relationships".

The surprise news came as Google unveiled strong net profits in the last three months of $2.54bn (£1.6bn) on revenues of $8.44bn.

Mr Page, 37, is reclaiming the job he relinquished to Mr Schmidt, 55, when investors called for a more experienced business leader.

"In my clear opinion, Larry is ready to lead and I'm excited about working with both him and Sergey [Brin] for a long time to come," Mr Schmidt said in a blog posting. Mr Brin, also 37, is Google's other founder.

Analysis

It's just under 10 years ago that Eric Schmidt joined Google, and what a ride it's been. He was brought in as the "adult" to complement the search company's young leadership team. He had plenty of experience: at Bell Labs, Xerox, Sun and Novell. His job: to reassure investors and manage growth.

Mr Schmidt has delivered, and more. His biggest achievement is how he bonded with Google's two founders; as an executive triumvirate they appear to have managed the company with little internal friction.

In corporate terms, Larry Page and Sergey Brin have been grown-ups for quite a while. Now they are taking charge at the company that is rightfully theirs.

But Google has lost momentum recently, especially in competition with Facebook. Key staff are leaving. It will be Larry Page's job to re-energise the search giant.

Still, shareholders will feel a tad safer in the knowledge that Eric Schmidt will carry on as the founders' mentor.

Mr Schmidt said the management changes, which take effect on 4 April, were part of a plan to "streamline" decision making and create clearer lines of responsibility and accountability.

"We've been talking about how best to simplify our management structure and speed up decision making for a long time," Mr Schmidt said.

He added: "Larry will now lead product development and technology strategy, his greatest strengths... Sergey has decided to devote his time and energy to strategic projects, in particular working on new products. His title will be co-founder."

Caution

Analysts said that Mr Page was now more experienced, and would carry more weight with investors on Wall Street than he did 10 years ago.

But Brian Pitz, analyst at UBS, added a note of caution. "The Street will think it's a negative, that there is probably some issue going on. Google is trying to get more efficient and trying to get a tech guy in the seat to compete with Facebook.

"I don't think it changes anything strategically where the company is headed," he said.

The surprise news overshadowed strong fourth-quarter profits that were well ahead of analysts' estimates. The $2.54bn profit compares with $1.97bn made in the same quarter the year before.

Analysts said Google appeared to have strengthened its internet advertising machine during the pre-Christmas shopping season, sparking a 26% surge in revenues to $8.44bn.

After subtracting the commissions Google pays to advertising partners, revenues were $6.37bn, about $300m more than analysts had forecast.

Mike Hickey, analyst at Janco Partners, said: "When you see an executive change, you hesitate because generally, it's a disruption at the top. Obviously the numbers look good, so it's a balance between the two."

Shares of Google rose about 2% to $639 in after-hours trading on Wall Street. The company now has a market value of about $200bn and has turned the co-founders and Mr Schmidt into billionaires.

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