The first generation of Big Tech founders are starting to step aside

Huge tech companies like Google, Amazon, Netflix and more have had a huge impact on the way we live our lives and have created incredible levels of financial success. Another thing many of these companies have in common is that their founders are no longer in control; they have either resigned, started sharing power with others, or in some cases possibly even ousted.

Just this week, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey stepped down as CEO and Salesforce founder Marc Benioff became a co-DIRECTOR. They are not alone.

  • Amazon — In July 2021, Jeff Bezos officially transferred the Amazon CEO position to former Amazon Web Services head Andy Jassy.
  • Apple — Tim Cook was temporarily in charge of Apple in 2009 while Steve Jobs was undergoing medical treatment. Jobs returned to the company, but put Cook back in charge for another furlough in 2011, before becoming permanent CEO later that year. Around the time of his 10-year anniversary as Apple’s CEO in 2021, Tim Cook said he has no plans to run the company for another decade.
  • ByteDance — Zhang Yiming, founder of the company that owns TikTok, announced that he will step down as CEO in May. In an internal letter, he said he was concerned about “too much reliance on the ideas I had before starting the company”.
  • google — In August 2015, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin transitioned to oversee Alphabet, the holding company for Google’s various properties. The uproar was seen when they took their hands off the search engine company, leaving Sundar Pichai in charge, and in 2019 Pichai also took over the role of CEO of Alphabet.
  • Instagram In September 2018, Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger announced they would be stepping down, reportedly after major disagreements with Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg.
  • Microsoft Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ departure came in several stages, with him first stepping down as CEO in 2000, then leaving his full-time position at the company he helped found in 2008, and finally stepping down from its board position last year. Microsoft is currently led by Satya Nadella, who is both CEO and chairman of the board.
  • Netflix — In July 2020, Ted Sarandos joined Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings as co-CEO. The company said Sarandos was already helping to lead (he was… twenty years with the company and was in charge of the original programming), and that his joining Hastings as CEO was merely a formalization of his role.
  • Sales team — Bret Taylor, who replaced Jack Dorsey as chairman of Twitter’s board on Monday, also becomes the co-CEO of enterprise tech giant Salesforce, according to CNBC. It’s not the first time Marc Benioff, the company’s CEO and founder, has shared power, but it’s another example of a former deputy starting to gain more power within a tech giant.
  • Twitter — On Monday, November 29, Jack Dorsey announced that he was leaving Twitter, saying, “I have decided to leave Twitter because I believe the company is ready to move beyond its founders.”

Of course, there are exceptions to the trend. Most notable is Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s complete control over Meta. He told The edge in October that he has no intention of quitting his job, and it would be virtually impossible for shareholders to force him out, thanks to the company’s stock structure. Aside from Zuckerberg, I think of a few other CEOs: Jensen Huang is still in charge of Nvidia (until it replaces him with a digital AI avatar), and Snapchat is still run by Evan Spiegel.

It’s clear that technology companies can survive and thrive without their founders – Microsoft and Apple are the two most valuable public companies in the world.