Google is primarily owned by its founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who have more than 51% voting power. Other individual shareholders comprise John Doerr (1.5%), a venture capitalist and early investor in Google, and CEO, Sundar Pichai. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt has 4.2% voting power. The most prominent institutional shareholders are mutual funds BlackRock and The Vanguard Group, with 2.7% and 3.1%, respectively.
A quick history of Google
In a paper entitled “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine,” two PHDs from Stanford created an algorithm to index and rank the growing number of pages that populated the Internet.
The main issue they had with advertising was that it was biased, and it caused a lot of spam in search results.
That’s because Bill Gross had figured the advertising market had massive potential, as he introduced an auction-based system for bidding businesses based on performance and clicks.
However, this was still back when Page and Brin were two academics completing their Ph.D. at Stanford University.
The transition to becoming businessmen would take soon to arrive. Indeed, a plan B was needed as venture money was soon over.
In addition, as Google managed to rank advertising based on relevance (for instance, by ranking higher those ads that got more clicks), advertising became a possible option. As Larry Page pointed out in the first Google letter to shareholders:
Advertising is our principal source of revenue, and the ads we provide are relevant and useful rather than intrusive and annoying.
By 2000 Google was already a key player in the search industry. However, it wasn’t yet in the safe zone financially.
Some pieces of the puzzle were still missing. However, the first massive deal came into the door.
By 2002, Overture was still a valid competitor for Google, yet, it was losing ground. Overture had managed to grow thanks to a series of deals.
One of the leading deals was with – at the time – one of the most successful portals, AOL. However, in May 2002, the agreement between AOL and Overture was to expire.
Applied Semantics’ products are based on its patented CIRCA technology, which understands, organizes, and extracts knowledge from websites and information repositories in a way that mimics human thought and enables more effective information retrieval. A key application of the CIRCA technology is Applied Semantics’ AdSense product that enables web publishers to understand the key themes on web pages to deliver highly relevant and targeted advertisements.
Google was primarily targeting technology from Applied Semantics called AdSense. It was the missing piece of the puzzle.
In short, Google would allow businesses to show their banners on the estate of those blogs, which had become the heart of the web in the 2000s.
It would also allow those blogs to jump from amateurs to making money via advertising. It was all tracked and based on the context of the page.
The AdSense value proposition was quite compelling.
As pointed out in a 2004 financial report, Google would “generate revenue by delivering relevant, cost-effective online advertising. Businesses use the AdWords program to promote their products and services with targeted advertising. Also, the thousands of third-party websites that comprise our Google Network use our Google AdSense program to deliver relevant ads that generate revenue and enhance the user experience.“
AdSense would become a critical part of the business.
At that stage, Google was ready to take off.
- Users: Google provided users with products and services that enabled them to find any information, quickly
- Advertisers: Google AdWords program, the auction-based advertising program allowed businesses to deliver ads both to customers on Google sites (for instance, the search page) and through the Google Network (any blog or site part of the AdSense program)
- Websites: Google free products, Google AdWords and Google AdSense embraced the whole web. While users get information for free and quickly. Businesses could make money by sponsoring their products on Google and via Google network. Publishers could also quickly monetize their content
Google Corporate Structure: Google’s Class A, Class B, and Class C stocks: Not all shares are born equal
When a company decides to issue equity in the form of common stocks, it can do so in several types depending on the limitations that the owners of the company want to give to voting powers.
Google’s Class B Common Stocks
In Google’s case, each Class B common stockholder is entitled to ten votes per share. Class B common stockholders have ten votes for each director nominee and ten for each proposal to be voted on.
We can define Class B stocks as common shares on steroids.
They empower those who own them to keep control of the company.
Page and Brin, Google’s founders, wanted to keep as much power in the company’s future decisions as they leveraged on Class B Common Stocks to have a higher weight on the company’s decisions.
Google’s Class A Common Stocks
Google’s Class A common stocks are entitled to vote.
Each share of Class A common stock is entitled to one vote for each director nominee and one vote for each of the proposals to be voted on.
Google’s Class C Common Stocks
Holders of Class C capital stock have no voting power as to any items of business that will be voted on at the Annual Meeting.
Those do confer ownership in the company and the right to be paid based on dividends and the company’s stock appreciation.
This list is worth looking at, like those are the people in charge of several “corporate functions.”
Board of directors
In 2022, the Board of Directors was composed of ten directors with the following committees:
2. a Leadership Development and Compensation Committee, which aims to oversee the compensation programs.
3. a Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee, the main purpose is to assist the Board of Directors in identifying individuals qualified to become members of the Board of Directors
4. an Executive Committee serves as an administrative committee of the Board of Directors to act upon and facilitate the consideration by senior management and the Board of Directors of certain high-level business and strategic matters.
From time to time, the Board of Directors may also establish ad hoc committees to address particular matters.
And they get reviewed each year based on various elements.
What is the compensation for those directors?
While it might change, we can look at compensation for 2022:
What’s the compensation for Google’s executives?
As a multi-billion tech giant, Google’s compensations are very competitive and based on the following elements:
- The base salary provides a steady income to employees.
- Equity awards are primarily based on the performance of each. An employee will receive those awards.
In assessing the compensation part, Google took into account (at least for 2022) the following “peers companies:”
We can break down all the compensations into base salary, bonuses, stock awards, option awards, non-equity incentives plans, and non-qualified deferred compensation earnings.
In terms of salary, both Page and Brin get a symbolic $1.
Current CEO Sundar Pichai earned $2 million in base salary in 2021.
Notice Pichai received over $270 million in stock awards in 2019.
In 2021 the total compensation was $6.3 million.
What’s the difference between Stock awards and Option awards
Regarding stock awards, they usually can get “vested” (exercised or monetized) at a certain date.
For instance, we can see how in 2021, Sundar Pichai “vested” millions of dollars in stock awards:
Sundar Pichai vested over $79 million worth of Google’s stocks.
When it comes to option awards – as a reference below – the executive or employee that receives it will have a fixed price to buy the stock at a specified date:
For instance, you notice the so-called exercise price in this table that shows the unvested (not yet exercised) stock options held by Schmidt and Pichai by December 2017.
For instance, in 2021, Eric Schmidt can purchase 181,840 Google stocks at $306.61.
How Much Does Sundar Pichai Make
To understand how the CEO’s compensation structure works, Sundar Pichai potentially got over $280 million, including salary, stock awards, and other compensation.
This structure is massively skewed toward stock awards. Indeed, in 2019, on a base salary of $2 million, Pichai got stock awards of over $276 million.
It’s important to stress that this stock award doesn’t go directly into the pockets of Sundar Pichai. Still, it follows a vesting schedule of a few years on the condition that various performance metrics are achieved.
How wealthy are Google’s founders?
Thanks to an ownership structure organized around various classes of stocks, the founders of Google managed to transform Google into a public company, able to get public funding while retaining tight control over the organization.
For instance, by 2023, thanks to their ownership stake in the company, both Page and Brin were multi-billionaires.
With a slightly higher ownership stake, Larry Page’s stake in Google is worth at least $70 billion.
Whereas Sergey Brin’s stake is worth around $66 billion.
The stake of the two of them, combined, is worth over $120 billion in 2023.
Google’s ownership structure before its 2004 IPO
As defined in the proxy statement before Google’s IPO, percentage ownership is based on 162,550,115 shares of Class A common stock and 114,732,822 shares of Class B common stock outstanding on March 28, 2005.
At the time, just like today, Brin and Page seemed obsessed with control and ownership.
In fact, at the time, both of them held over 55.6% of the voting power.
Back then, the other individual investors with a consistent stake in the company were – at the time – CEO Erick Schmidt, venture capitalist John Doerr, venture capitalist Michael Moritz and Omid Kordestani, who at the time was in charge of Business Development and Sales and one of those who helped Google scale up (he closed the AOL deal).
Who owns Google now?
As of January 31, 2020, there were 300,047,170 shares of the registrant’s Class A common stock outstanding and 46,407,491 shares of the registrant’s Class B common stock outstanding.
The company’s control is still in the hands of the two co-founders, Page and Brin.
If we look at the individuals owning the company, we have Larr Page and Sergey Brin, which together have 51% of the voting power.
Other substantial private investors comprise John Doerr (read OKR), venture capitalist and early investor in Google, and Sundar Pichai, the current company’s CEO.
The most prominent institutional shareholders (those with more than 5% of Google’s – now called Alphabet – share) are BlackRock, Fidelity (entities affiliated with it), and the Vanguard Group.
Who are Google’s top individual investors and owners?
Founder of Google together with Sergey Brin, Page was the inventor of the PageRank algorithm that made Google the success we know today. Director Since 1998 Larry Page, Chief Executive Officer of Alphabet. He has been a member of the Board of Directors since its inception in September 1998.
Founder of Google together with Larry Page. Director Since 1998 Sergey Brin, President of Alphabet, has served as a member of Google Board of Directors since its inception in September 1998.
One of the venture capitalist being – almost – since the beginning, John Doerr was director Since 1999 and has served as a member of Google Board of Directors since May 1999. John Doerr has been a General Partner of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture capital firm, since August 1980.
Newly appointed CEO – in 2017 – he has served as a member of Google Board of Directors 2017. He served as Google’s Senior Vice President of Products from October 2014 to October 2015.
And as Google’s Senior Vice President of Android, Chrome, and Apps from March 2013 to October 2014. Since joining Google in April 2004, Sundar Pichai has held various positions, including Google’s Senior Vice President, Chrome and Apps; Senior Vice President, Chrome; and Vice President, Product Management.
Before joining Google, Sundar worked in engineering and product management at Applied Materials, Inc., a semiconductor company, and in management consulting at McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm.
Over the years, while the ownership of Google has slightly changed, one thing has remained constant, control and ownership by its founders. Brin and Page still represent the major individual shareholders.
Also, as Google issued several common stocks, Brin and Page are the ones who – with their Class B common stocks – preserved their control over the company.
Even when, back in the 2000s, a “grown-up” CEO, Erick Schmidt, was brought in, Brin and Page still had more than 50% of the voting power. The company has adopted several collective decision-making systems over the years.