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CEO Changes Leave Questions At Apple, Google

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Google’s Eric Schmidt and Apple’s Steve Jobs both stepped down in 2011. Which company is better positioned, asks Clint Boulton

Only in Silicon Valley, which teems with technology talent, can the loss of CEOs from the region’s two most powerful companies be weathered so well.

That is exactly what happened this year with the shuttling of former Google CEO Eric Schmidt to the executive chairman role in April and the shocking, yet ultimately expected resignation of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs from the company he helped build and restore to unimaginable glory.

The world knew Schmidt was transitioning in January, when the company said in its fourth quarter earnings call that Larry Page would take over as CEO.

Schmidt, who accepted the torch from Page back in 2002, did preside over major acquisitions such as YouTube and DoubleClick. He helped propel Google to $30 billion (£19bn) a year in revenues. He also politicked enough to keep Capitol Hill off of Google’s broad shoulders.

Is there a correlation between Page’s turn at the helm and the antitrust Federal Trade Commission’s antitrust investigation into the company? Who can say for sure?

Schmidt shunted aside

Page tore into the role in early April, streamlining management and annoying financial analysts by saying little on the company’s first quarter earnings call April 14.

Page (pictured) redeemed himself with Wall Street by chatting more on the Q2 call in July. He also scored points by cutting several Google products that were languishing, including Google Health, PowerMeter, Google Labs, Slide and several more web services. That’s money and sources spent elsewhere to keep the Google money machine running; the company has nearly $40 billion in the bank.

But Page’s return to power may be more notable for what Google did to fortify its position. Google launched its Google+ social network and made a bold bid for Android OEM Motorola Mobility. There is no guarantee federal regulators will bless that bid, but Page gets points for moving fast and aggressively to shore up Android’s patent portfolio poorness.

Perhaps in later years, Wired‘s Steven Levy, The New Yorker‘s Ken Auletta, or some other author of a renowned book on Google will pen a follow-up divulging the ins and outs of Schmidt’s migration to executive chairman.

For now, pundits are left to surmise, based on Schmidt’s own comments and Google’s delivery of Google+, that Schmidt was shunted aside for failing to move the needle for Google in social versus Facebook.

Jobs nearly perfect in execution at top

This sort of personal failing in business would never be brooked by Schmidt’s friend Jobs, who left under marketedly different terms.

Jobs, whose battle with pancreatic cancer led to a liver transplant, stepped down on 24 August, proclaiming that he was unable to perform the duties of CEO. Jobs remains at Apple in an advisory role, though industry reports claim he has scarcely been seen on campus in Cupertino, California.

What Jobs (pictured) left Apple with is beyond reproach – $76 billion (£47bn) in the bank, over 100 million iPhones sold, 30 million iPads sold, and the specter of an Apple Television set titilating pundits.

Jobs’ biggest mistake since his return to Apple in 1997 had to do with his knowledge of backdated stock options nearly 5 years ago, not management or market missteps.

In any event, these two key CEO departures leave us with a couple of key questions for 2011 and beyond.

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