CNET dropped an exclusive report over the weekend, announcing that long time Google/Alphabet executive Eric Schmidt has now left the company entirely. He’s been a figure who has overseen many of Google’s biggest successes, such as building the Android ecosystem, acquiring and growing YouTube, and launching Chrome then building it to be the most popular web browser. But his tenure at Google has not been without controversy, especially towards the end, and there are some big questions about what exactly he’ll be doing next.
He had been initially hired as CEO back in 2001, a role which he stayed in until 2011, before transitioning into a role on their board of directors. He stepped down from the board of directors back in 2017, after which time he served as technical advisor, until February of this year when it turns out he left the company entirely.
Perhaps the very public scandal of Google covering up a culture of sexual harassment and discrimination, and paying out massive multi-million dollar exit payments to a pair of executives accused of sexual harassment, a decision Schmidt would bear ultimate responsibility for, was in part the final straw. This culminated in a mass walkout of employees in 2018, and a 2019 lawsuit that alleged:
“Alphabet’s Board employed a completely dual and contradictory standard: If you were a high‐level male executive at Google responsible for generating millions of dollars revenue, Google would let you engage in sexual harassment. And if you get caught, Google would keep it quiet, let you resign, and pay you millions of dollars in severance.”
He also served on the board of directors when Google removed their famous “don’t be evil” line from their code of conduct.
Schmidt, also himself directly generated controversy when he attended a Stanford AI conference, resulting in protests from academics, researchers, and even many current and former Google employees, who felt that his track record did not make him a suitable choice for delivering their keynote speech. In an open letter outlining their concerns, they had this to say about Schmidt’s record on human rights
“Many employees within the company were disturbed with the company’s refusal to clarify its boundaries on the censorship of human rights and student protests, or which protections it would put in place for pro-democracy journalists and human rights activists. Since then, more than 700 Google employees signed a joint letter in protest of the project, and, soon after, it was revealed that Google’s privacy team had been shut out. Yet, to this day, the company refuses to state that profiting from the suppression of democracy and dissent violates any of its principles. And, Mr. Schmidt is the most vocal champion of this violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
The keynote speech went ahead regardless.