Google's executive shuffle highlights its growing ambitions

SAN FRANCISCO Fri Jul 18, 2014 3:49pm IST

Nikesh Arora, Google chief business officer speaks at a news conference at the annual Allen and Co. conference in Sun Valley, Idaho Resort July 11, 2013. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/Files

Nikesh Arora, Google chief business officer speaks at a news conference at the annual Allen and Co. conference in Sun Valley, Idaho Resort July 11, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Rick Wilking/Files

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Google Inc's reshuffle of its senior ranks underscores the Internet company’s evolving business ambitions, analysts say.

Three years after co-founder Larry Page took the reins back as chief executive officer, his team of lieutenants is clearly undergoing a refresh.

On Thursday, Google announced the surprise departure of its veteran business chief Nikesh Arora, who will become Vice Chairman of SoftBank Corp.

Arora represents the latest in a string of personnel changes within Google’s top ranks over the past 16 months, affecting major divisions from Youtube to its popular Android mobile software.

In some cases, the moves appear to be the result of personal circumstances or opportunities. Arora’s role at SoftBank represents a promotion, analysts say.

But a half-dozen other top executives have left or switched roles in recent months. They included the departed Vic Gundotra, who oversaw the Google+ social network; and Salar Kamangar, who was CEO of YouTube before moving to another role.

Fresh faces now pictured on Google’s senior management page include Craig Barratt, whose responsibilities include efforts building broadband networks and delivering wireless Internet access, and Lorraine Twohill, the head of marketing who was recently promoted to senior vice president.

It is unclear what motivated each individual move. But analysts say they suggest a general desire to have fresh eyes on key parts of the business as Google pursues growth areas.

“The opportunities they’re chasing are so much bigger now,” said BGC Partners analyst Colin Gillis.

“They weren’t digging up fiber four years ago. They didn’t have Chromecast,” he said, referring to Google’s ultra-high-speed fiber network and a device for streaming Web content to televisions.

Google’s transition to smartphones represents a key success in recent years. Now, it is seeking to extend Android’s reach into televisions, smartwatches and cars.

This week, Google announced that former Ford Motor Co CEO Alan Mulally was joining its board, bringing expertise and connections as Google seeks to play a bigger role in automobiles with its Android software and self-driving car technology.

Andy Rubin, credited with making Android a hit, is now focused on building another potential area of growth for the company: robots.

Other initiatives, such as the Google+ network launched to take on Facebook Inc, appear to have receded in priority, with the service barely mentioned at this year's developer conference.

Meanwhile, Google’s online advertising business remains a reliable money-making machine, with revenue up 22 percent to $16 billion in the second quarter. Arora's departure should not cause any major hiccups, analysts said.

He will be replaced for now by Omid Kordestani, one of Google’s early sales executives.

“Google is a pretty efficient machine, so I think they’ll be able to plug in the up-and-coming person,” said Needham & Co analyst Kerry Rice, referring to Kordestani. “I don’t think it will be too detrimental.”

(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by Ken Wills)

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