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Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian not afraid to bench long-timers


Thomas Kurian, CEO of Alphabet’s Google Cloud, speaks at the Google Cloud Next conference in San Francisco on April 9, 2019.

Michael Short | Bloomberg | Getty Images

As a part of a recent reorganization within Google Cloud, CEO Thomas Kurian sidelined multiple tenured company veterans — one way he’s is living up to the company’s big expectations when it hired him two years ago.

CNBC reported Wednesday that Kurian, in a recent email to staff, announced a broad reorganization within Google Cloud’s engineering units. This shakeup will help Google Cloud grow its market share and streamline an organisation that has grown significantly since Kurian assumed control. Kurian claimed that only the technical division has seen a double in size since Kurian took over.

Google still lags behind Amazon and Microsoft in market share, but the recent reorganization and steady gains show why Kurian, an initially unlikely candidate, is doing what Google had hoped.

Kurian axed many veterans, who may otherwise have kept their jobs due to their tenure in the most recent reorganization. Google workers joke that their long-serving middle managers can stay in their jobs for as many years as they like, even if the business environment changes. Kurian demonstrated that he doesn’t mind putting veterans on the bench and giving others greater responsibility in his latest move.

Kurian fired Eyal Manor who had been with the company for more than 14 year and has worked in Cloud for five. Manor managed Anthos the Google competitor, and Google hopes it will be able to compete with other companies. Kurian stated that Manor would look to other parts of the company for work.

Urs Holzle was among Google’s initial ten employees. He also served as the first vice president for engineering. The reorganization effectively removes him from his daily responsibilities and puts him in a strategic position. Holzle recently faced backlash from employees for contradicting his own remote work policies, too.

Kurian has also decided to unify Google Cloud’s technical team under Brad Calder. This will allow Manor and Holzle to share their responsibilities and directly report to Kurian. Calder worked eight years for Microsoft before joining Google Cloud.

Sundar Pichai is the chief executive officer of Google LLC. He spoke at the Google Cloud Next’19 conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, April 9th 2019.

Michael Short | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Growth trumps culture, for now

While Google Cloud still isn’t profitable, Kurian has more than doubled revenue and slashed losses from when he first joined the company, earning praise from Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, CFO Ruth Porat and investors.

In the most recent quarter, cloud revenue grew to $4.63 billion, up nearly 54% from $3.01 billion a year ago. Cloud business suffered operating losses of $591million, which is an impressive 58.7% decrease from the $1.43billion loss last year.

Kurian is also putting a great deal of focus on Kurian’s sales department. Kurian was the first to recognize that 10 sales managers had to give approval for a salesperson to offer a discount. After this, non-disclosure agreements were required and legal counsel would be involved. Kurian streamlined some of those practices early on.

In an effort to win more clients, particularly more notable ones, he encouraged salespeople to include other Google products such as the Android mobile operating systems and artificial intelligence tools into their pitching. Kurian also reportedly boosted salespeople’s salaries to be more competitive than Amazon and Microsoft. 

Kurian was known for his no-nonsense, militant leadership style. He was surprised when Google appointed him as its 2018 CEO. There, employees felt that they were heard and the company was moving toward the greater good.

Kurian has yet to overcome the culture shock of being a leader in a company with a long history of justice-motivated employees. But he doesn’t think he can ignore it. Most recently, he claimed to seek information from the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol about how the company’s artificial intelligence cloud tools would be used amid employee concern. Kurian acknowledges that there are still some concerns among employees about the prospects.

Google didn’t hire him for his culture. They were aware of his reputation. Google had started to move towards a culture where it didn’t shun military contracts and used slogans such as “Don’t be Evil” more broadly.

Whether or not Kurian’s process works in the long run, growth is what Google wants and growth is what what it’s getting — for now, at least.

Watch Now: Google Cloud is reorganizing its engineering units