Sundar Pichai is the 2nd most important person at Google

Maybe even the most important. Re/code is reporting that Larry Paige is handing off the day-to-day management of Google’s major products:

It’s a very big portfolio for one of Page’s senior product lieutenants and a fast-rising company executive. The highly respected Pichai will now have purview over research, search, maps, Google+, commerce and ad products and infrastructure. And he will continue to keep his existing responsibility for Android, Chrome and Google Apps. The six executives in charge of newly added product areas, all of whom previously reported directly to Page, will now report to Pichai.

What a bold, audacious move. First, acknowledgement is required for Pichai’s rocket ship rise to the top. This guy is only 8 years older than me and is now the point person for much of $370 billion company. Absolutely amazing. Getting recognition as the leader in a sprawling organization like Google couldn’t have been easy.

My second takeaway is Larry Paige, and how seriously he’s taking the Innovator’s Dilemma. What gutsy leadership. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, it’s basically about how difficult it is for incumbents to innovate like smaller start-ups because they are too ingrained in old innovations.

Larry Paige is taking this seriously enough to remove himself from the day-to-day of managing Google’s products to take on the big picture. Make no mistake — this is no early retirement.

He’ll continue to directly manage business and operations, including access and energy (a new unit run by Craig Barratt), Nest, Calico, Google X, corporate development, legal, finance and business (including ad sales).

That’s still a lot of responsibility for any person, but his focus is clearly on the future and on new things. Google X is about 10x moonshots, initiatives that can change the world; Nest is about bringing technology to the home (and by extension to any physical space); corporate development is about buying the next Youtube or Android; and Paige will still have control over the money.

Back in the early days of Google, Paige and Sergey Brin recognized they needed an operations-focused person to help grow the company. That person was Eric Schmidt. Similarly, Steve Jobs needed Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg needed Sheryl Sandberg.

It looks like Sundar Pichai will fulfill that role for Paige today, at least for product-related operations.

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