- Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian was hired to make the unit a promising revenue source for Alphabet.
- Insiders say the culture is more like Oracle’s or SAP’s — and distinct from the rest of Google’s.
- Six vice presidents, including the sales president Robert Enslin, have left this year alone.
In March, Google published internally the results of its annual “Googlegeist” survey, tracking how employees in each unit feel about everything from pay to the impact of their work.
Within the tech giant’s cloud-computing division, 54% of employees said they felt the group’s promotion process was unfair.
In an email to staff, Google Cloud’s CEO, Thomas Kurian, acknowledged the survey showed there were “barriers to decision-making” and promised that leaders were “committed to addressing your feedback.”
Insider spoke with over 20 current and former Google Cloud employees about the company’s culture, many of whom said the survey results reflected mounting tensions inside an organization that had been transformed in recent years. All the people spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely about the company, but their identities are known to Insider.
Since Kurian took the reins three years ago, they said, the division has jettisoned much of the whimsical and transparent corporate culture that helped make Google a Silicon Valley titan, adopting the buttoned-up, “cutthroat” sales culture of old-guard software companies like Oracle, where Kurian spent 22 years making a name for himself.
“No organization is perfect, but they are incredibly top-down and leader-driven,” one recently departed manager said. “It’s a weird way of running a business — it’s quite draconian, and there’s not a lot of trust.”
One employee said Google Cloud had become “SAP 2.0,” with Kurian filling executive roles and sales teams with new hires from the German database giant and rivals like Oracle and Microsoft.
Kurian has positioned the move as necessary to make Google Cloud competitive in a market dominated by Amazon and Microsoft. His approach was validated by the unit’s revenue growth last quarter of 44%, to $5.8 billion. In 2021 it reported 80% growth in total deal volume and 65% growth in deals over $1 billion. And last quarter it announced deals with companies like Boeing, Bloomberg, L’Oréal, and Kraft Heinz.
“We’re proud of our success as the fastest-growing major cloud provider,” a Google Cloud spokesperson said in a statement. “As we continue to scale, we are focused on building a world-class team committed to serving the needs of our customers and partners.”
Sources said Kurian’s approach had sown some internal dissent, reflected in the survey results and a spate of senior departures. Six company vice presidents have quit Google Cloud this year, including John Jester and the sales president Robert Enslin, adding to the 10 who left in 2021. In all, at least 30 VPs have left Google Cloud since Kurian took charge.
The exodus of veteran leaders has been compounded by struggles to retain some new recruits.
Pip White spent almost 14 years at HP and another three at Salesforce before being headhunted to lead Google Cloud in the UK and Ireland. But she lasted barely over a year in the role.
Sanj Bhayro was likewise drafted from Salesforce to head up operations in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. He exited a little bit shy of two years later.
Christian Martin, who joined the company last year as its Alpine regional chief after more than two decades at Cisco, has also quit.
“We’ve become the SAP. We’ve become the Oracle,” a former employee said. “There’s no resemblance to what Google has ever been.”
A different set of priorities
Kurian is leading the unit through a precarious period. Google Cloud is one of the tech giant’s few in-house bets to generate significant revenue without relying on search ads. At the same time, the business lags far behind rivals like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft in terms of revenue and market share, and it has yet to reach profitability.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai appears to have given Kurian free rein to do whatever he wants so long as the business continues to grow, with Google Cloud effectively treated as a separate entity from other parts of the company, insiders said.
With that flexibility, Kurian and his top lieutenants have oriented the company toward business metrics, aggressively pushing every team to focus on attracting more customers and closing more deals, the insiders say.
Sources say teams under Kurian have adopted processes from companies like Microsoft or Oracle, including weekly pipeline reviews of customers and an account-review system where groups meet to “poke holes” in each others’ plans.
The insiders say the focus on metrics has also pitted teams against each other. They say that when bonuses and other forms of compensation hinge on how many deals get closed and the size of each contract, teams will fight to be the one credited with winning a customer.
“It affects everyone really,” an employee said. “You lose your big spending accounts. You build relationships — you lose your momentum with your clients.”
Such a competitive culture stands in stark contrast to the rest of Google, overseen by Pichai. Generally speaking, Google keeps the engineers behind services like its search engine and YouTube focused on improving efficiency and customer experience, insulated from financial concerns.
“The rest of Google lives in this world where there is a fundamental separation between the product and revenue,” said a former Google Cloud vice president who spoke to Insider on the condition of anonymity.
“It’s like church and state,” the former VP said, adding, “People aren’t paying you to use the search engine.”
That dynamic has led to friction, company insiders say. Some Google Cloud salespeople said they were generally discouraged from selling customers on ads, Google Maps, or any other non-cloud product, and vice versa.
Those salespeople said that was at least partially because of different incentives across the company: At Google Cloud, such deals are handled by its dedicated sales force, which has quotas tied to the number and size of the deals it closes. The rest of Google and its associated companies, however, handle such deals through business-development teams, whose performance is tracked by different metrics.
“There’s a cultural dichotomy between the two organizations,” said a former senior manager who quit the division within the past year. “You’ve got a cloud division that’s on the back foot and is desperate to win market share, and the rest of the business, which enjoys a dominant position. That’s going to promote different types of behavior.”
The Google Cloud spokesperson said the company has teams dedicated to spearheading deals that bring in different teams from across the company, using the examples of Google’s deals with Kraft, Ford, and the Sony-owned
Kurian makes his mark on Google Cloud
Insiders say that with his control over Google Cloud effectively unlimited and his top lieutenants filled out by respected industry veterans, Kurian has made his mark and shaken up the way the unit does business.
Not all the changes were unwelcome. While his predecessor, Diane Greene, encouraged employees to use
OS-powered Chromebooks, Kurian has given his blessing for staffers to use whichever operating system helps them be productive, an employee said.
But the company insiders say Kurian’s reign has been characterized by a move away from openness and transparency and toward a top-down management style that often means leaving employees in the dark.
Sources said that in an attempt to empower his management team, Kurian has granted VPs more access to the company’s expense accounts for the purpose of flying around the world to wine and dine customers. They said that anybody below that level has to cut through red tape to do the same, while before the pandemic they had more flexibility to use the budget to book trips. A Google Cloud spokesperson said all employees have to follow a company travel-budget policy.
The long-term effects
Kurian’s changes at Google Cloud have rankled some within the division, the insiders say.
Kurian has been known to butt heads with longtime Googlers over the direction of the unit, most prominently with the engineering senior vice president Urs Hölzle, a former employee familiar with the matter said. Hölzle, famous for being Google’s eighth employee, has played a key role in Google Cloud since its inception. Late last year, however, Google Cloud underwent a reorganization that gave Hölzle a new role at the larger Alphabet organization.
“He wasn’t able to drive things the way he wanted to anymore, so he gracefully exited,” another former employee said.
Google Cloud insiders say power in the unit is now concentrated among Kurian’s handpicked new recruits. That’s frustrated some longtime employees, who said they were passed over for promotions or other opportunities for advancement at Google Cloud in favor of those arriving from firms like Microsoft or Oracle.
“The culture is becoming very Microsoft-y,” another employee said. “If you don’t have a relationship with these folks, you are outside. You are outside of the decision-making for the entire company.”
Are you a current or former Google Cloud employee? Got a tip?
Contact Rosalie Chan at email@example.com, Signal at 646.376.6106, Telegram at @rosaliechan, or Twitter DM at @rosaliechan17. Other types of secure messaging available upon request.
Contact Hugh Langley via encrypted email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or encrypted messaging apps Signal or Telegram at +1 628-228-1836.
Contact Martin Coulter via email at email@example.com or via encrypted messaging app Signal at +447801985586. Reach out using a non-work device.