John Krafcik joined the Waymo self-driving subsidiary of Alphabet
Also interesting is that the Alphabet board has appointed two inside leaders as co-CEOs, and not declared this to be a temporary situation as might normally be the case. The two co-CEOs are Dmitri Dolgov (CTO) and Tekedra Mawakana (COO.) Both will focus on their prior roles and add joint steering of overall company strategy to their tasks.
I worked with Dmitri in Waymo’s early years, and he’s a tech star, and watching his recent public presentations he’s matured into a leader and public face. His background is entirely in robotics and self-driving. I have not met Ms. Mawakana, but her background began in law but has been entirely in high-tech leadership.
What seems to be the case is that while Alphabet felt it important to have an auto-industry leader at the helm navigating them through the path of disrupting the auto industry, they no longer feel that. Of course, there are other people at Waymo with auto industry experience to advise the new leadership, and in Waymo’s 12 years, they have gained quite a lot of it. The harsh reality of disruption is that it’s rarely done by insiders, though you need their knowledge.
Waymo is disruptive. It doesn’t plan to sell cars, or manufacture them, but it will create both car and chauffeur “as a service.” You won’t buy cars, you’ll buy rides. As the name suggests, a robotaxi acts just like a better, cheaper taxi, but it is not competition for the taxi. It is competition for the car. The goal is a service that makes people decide they no longer need to own a car, or as many cars. People from the auto industry may not be the ones to lead that.
Krafcik’s appointment caused some internal strife inside Waymo, though not necessarily through any fault of his. Waymo (Google Chauffeur) was begun by Sebastian Thrun, and two men vied for the leadership – Anthony Levandowski and Chris Urmson, especially after Thrun scaled back his role and eventually left. Neither would be happy working for the other, but Urmson won and became project leader. There has been much reporting by others of the growing rift and spectacular departure of Anthony which I have declined to write about. But Chris also wasn’t thrilled that Waymo brought in an outsider to be CEO as it started moving closer to be a business, and he eventually left to found Aurora, which has had astonishing fundraising success, though it has yet to deploy a product.
Because of Waymo’s history, being born from Google, it has always held a special position. It was the first by a long shot, thanks to Larry Page’s drive and vision, and has always been universally acclaimed as the best. That’s put a barrier on how they worked with car companies. Car OEMs are used to being top dog in their industry. When they talk to suppliers, they are in charge, the supplier bows down. Even ones like Bosch that are as large as they are. Google, on the other hand is perhaps the world’s most famous company, and one of the richest, with one of the top reputations in technology for good reason. Google does not ask “how high?” when asked by others to jump. They control who jumps.
This has made partnerships more difficult. In addition, car makers have suspected that they would become the “Foxconn” in any partnership. (Foxconn manufactures the iPhone, and does very well in their relationship with Apple
Waymo continues to be the company to beat in this space, and so their direction is particularly important to watch.