Alphabet details how Larry Page and Sundar Pichai split duties

Key Points
  • Just-published correspondence between Alphabet and the SEC details how often CEO Larry Page receives the financial information that guides his decisions about all of the company's many businesses.
  • Although none of the information is shocking, it provides a unique granular look at the company's corporate structure and which executives have authority on what decisions.
  • While Google reels in nearly all of Alphabet's revenue, CEO Sundar Pichai does not have any authority over Alphabet's overall resource allocation to Google.
Larry Page chief executive officer of Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc.
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Just-published correspondence between Google parent company Alphabet and the Securities and Exchange Commission breaks down how the company makes decisions regarding its dozen different businesses.

Since Google blew up its corporate structure to form Alphabet in late 2015, it now separates its financials between Google, which it divides between advertising and everything else (like cloud computing and hardware), and its "Other Bets," which currently includes 11 different companies, like self-driving car unit Waymo and healthcare arm Verily.

Late last year, the SEC asked Alphabet for specific details around how much decision-making power Alphabet CEO Larry Page has on individual Google businesses, and the different kinds of information given to Page versus president Sergey Brin and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, among other things.

Alphabet's response letter, dated December 15, was just released today due to SEC correspondence rules.

Although none of the information Alphabet provided in response is shocking, it provides an unusually granular look at the company's complicated corporate structure and which executives have authority over what decisions.

Here are some of the interesting insights:

Larry Page really treats each company separately 

Alphabet CEO Larry Page receives regular financial information about every Alphabet company but doesn't allocate resources to individual product areas within Google or within individual Other Bets.

  • Every week he gets reports summarizing revenue and operating profitability for Alphabet, Google as a whole, and combined Other Bets.
  • Every month he gets reports summarizing operating results for individual Other Bets.
  • Every quarter he gets reports providing operating results for Alphabet, revenue broken down by product areas within Google and operating results for Google as a whole, and operating results for each Other Bet company.
  • Page does not receive specific profitability and/or expense information for any product areas within Google as part of the weekly, quarterly or any other regular reporting. For example, Page wouldn't receive reports that showed YouTube's versus Google Cloud's profitability.

Page proposes compensation for Google CEO Pichai and all the other Other Bet CEOs, but no other executives below that.

The Other Bet CEOs include:

  • GV – Venture capital — David Krane
  • Capital G — Growth equity investment — David Lawee
  • Verily — Healthcare — Andrew Conrad
  • Calico —Biotech — Arthur Levinson
  • Jigsaw — Geopolitics think-tank —Jared Cohen
  • Chronicle —Cyber-security — Stephen Gillett
  • DeepMind — Artificial intelligence research — Demis Hassabis
  • Waymo — Autonomous vehicles — John Krafcik
  • Sidewalk Labs — Urban innovation — Dan Doctoroff
  • X — R&D lab — Astro Teller
  • Access — Internet provider — Dinesh Jain

Google CEO Pichai is totally disconnected from Other Bets

While Google accounted for all of Alphabet's profit and more than 98% of its revenue in its last quarter, Google CEO Sundar Pichai neither receives financial information about Alphabet's Other Bets nor has any decision-making power over them.

That hands-off relations played out dramatically in the case of Nest, the company Google acquired for $3.2 billion in 2014. When Nest spun-out as an Alphabet unit, the two companies had no incentive to work together and ended up building similar products. Ultimately, Alphabet decided to roll Nest back into Google earlier this month.

Pichai also does not have authority over Alphabet's overall resource allocation to Google.

But Pichai has a lot of power over Google

Within Google:

  • Pichai receives weekly and quarterly reports which include individual financial information for Google product areas, including YouTube, advertising, and hardware, and include operating results, capital expenditures, and headcount for Google as a whole. Quarterly reports include operating results for product areas and product categories (i.e., one level below product areas) within Google, expenses for certain functions, and headcount.
  • Neither Page nor his co-founder, Alphabet President Sergey Brin, receive the weekly and quarterly reports received by Sundar Pichai.

Without Page's approval, Pichai can commit Google to non-standard licensing or similar arrangements, investments, mergers and acquisitions, and other commitments up to a set dollar threshold. Also, capital expenditures, real estate, commercial arrangements, including licensing, partnership and revenue generating agreements and other similar transactions and expenditures up to a set dollar threshold (which is undisclosed).

Although Susan Wojcicki and Diane Greene both have "CEO" titles within Google, for YouTube and Cloud respectively, Pichai is the only Google executive who reports directly to and maintains regular contact with Page.

How Sergey Brin and Ruth Porat participate

Brin receives all of the same reports as Page. Along with Page, he will give preliminary approval to individual Other Bet annual business plans, but Page has to give the final approval. Both Brin and Page will work with Other Bets and occasionally various product area leaders within Google, but those leaders don't have direct accountability or contact with them. Page and Brin's interactions "involve advice on engineering and technical specifications related to research and product development initiatives."

Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat participates in the annual business planning process of Google as well as each individual Other Bet.

Read Alphabet's response in its entirety here.

Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat weighs in on earnings
Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat weighs in on earnings