After nearly a decade at the helm, YouTube chief executive officer Susan Wojcicki is leaving the streaming video empire to focus on “family, health and personal projects I’m passionate about,” she said in an internal memo to employees on Thursday.
What that will be is anyone’s guess. Wojcicki, one of the earliest Googlers and sister of Anne, CEO of DNA-testing company 23andMe, has been one of the most powerful women in Silicon Valley. She’s also the second high-ranking female tech executive to leave a major Big Tech company in recent memory, with Evans Hankey — Jony Ive’s industrial design successor at Apple — revealing plans to vacate her role later this year.
The departure comes amid a tumultuous time for the technology sector, in general, and operations like parent company Google, which rely on online advertising revenue, in particular. Downturns in spending amid an uncertain economy have racked up enormous losses across tech and retail. That plays out as other pressures mount, as scrutiny on Google, Meta, Apple and Amazon intensifies over privacy, disinformation and allegedly anti-competitive tactics.
Naturally, there was no whiff of that in Wojcicki’s letter. Instead, she struck a positive tone, writing that. “I feel able to do this because we have an incredible leadership team in place at YouTube.”
This team will now be steered by her second-in-command, Neal Mohan.
So far, reactions to the news have been mixed. On one hand, some observers view it as the end of an era. As one of Google’s earliest employees, Wojcicki’s tenure goes back almost 25 years, back to the days when the business was a garage-bound startup under co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.
From there, she took on a multitude of responsibilities as needed, from marketing to co-creating Google Image Search and leading the company’s initial video and book search tools. She was instrumental in AdSense’s creation and early development and had a hand in acquiring DoubleClick and YouTube.
But her leadership at the latter also sparked waves of criticism from the creator community, whose billions of fashion, beauty, gaming and other uploads form YouTube’s lifeblood.
Wojcicki turned the business into a video streaming juggernaut by ensuring that it pulsed with a never-ending flow of videos, thanks to the constant innovation and creative approaches to monetization. But all the changes — from policies and payments to the algorithms that dictate which videos gain visibility — also sparked frustration, decimating some followings while amping up others seemingly at random.
That could change under Mohan.
As if to head off any concerns or answer questions that creators and brands might have about the person who will run one of their most important content channels, Wojcicki ran down a short list of some of his bona fides.
After joining Google through the DoubleClick acquisition, he rose to prominence in the organization to eventually run its all important display and video ads business. In 2015, he became chief product officer of YouTube, where he has “played pivotal roles in the launch of some of our biggest products, including YouTube TV, YouTube Music and Premium and Shorts, and [he] has led our Trust and Safety team, ensuring that YouTube lives up to its responsibility as a global platform,” she wrote.
“He has a wonderful sense for our product, our business, our creator and user communities and our employees… With all we’re doing across Shorts, streaming and subscriptions, together with the promises of AI, YouTube’s most exciting opportunities are ahead, and Neal is the right person to lead us.”
Wojcicki will stick around to help with the transition and, thanks to an arrangement she worked out with Alphabet chief executive officer Sundar Pichai, she will remain in an advisory capacity across Google and Alphabet.