Google’s head of human resources, Eileen Naughton, is stepping down from the post, following a tumultuous period when the company’s relations with employees turned into a battleground over issues ranging from the group’s work for the Pentagon to its handling of sexual harassment claims.
Ms Naughton presided during a period of tremendous growth, as well as growing tension between staff and management. The number of employees at Google’s parent, Alphabet — the vast majority of whom work at the internet company — jumped about 80 per cent to reach almost 120,000 in the three and a half years since Ms Naughton took on the title of Google’s head of people operations.
She took over the job from Laszlo Bock, who over the previous decade had made Google a by-word for the way Silicon Valley companies both pampered their workers and sought to inspire them with invocations to “change the world”. The switch coincided with growing tensions inside the company, as workers who had been attracted by Google’s idealistic aspirations balked at initiatives such as a proposal to launch a censored search engine in China, as well as selling AI for US defence department drones.
Google employees around the world staged a walkout in late 2018 in protest over the disclosure that two top executives had left the company with large payouts after being investigated for sexual harassment. A third executive, David Drummond, resigned last month, shortly after the company’s board had completed its own investigation into the issues.
In a statement, Ms Naughton said that after six years in London and San Francisco, she and her husband had decided to return home to New York “to be closer to our family”.
Sundar Pichai, chief executive, credited her with making “major contributions to the company in numerous areas”, and added: “We’re grateful to Eileen for all she’s done and look forward to her next chapter at Google.”
Her roles included handling media partnerships and later leading Google’s sales and operations in the UK and Ireland. Ms Naughton joined Google in 2006, after 12 years at Time Warner where she rose to become president of the Time magazine group.
Referring to her planned move, Ms Naughton said she was “at the very beginning of this process” and would work with Mr Pichai and chief financial officer Ruth Porat to find a replacement.