Big tech’s first generation of founders starts to step aside

The people who started Twitter, Amazon, Microsoft and more are passing the baton

Massive tech companies like Google, Amazon, Netflix, and more have had a huge impact on the way we live our lives, and have had incredible levels of monetary success. Another thing many of these companies have in common is that their founders are no longer necessarily in control; they’ve either stepped down, started sharing power with others, or in some cases possibly even been pushed out.

This week alone, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey stepped down as CEO, and Salesforce founder Marc Benioff became a co-CEO. They’re not alone.

  • Alibaba — Jack Ma stepped down as CEO of the giant Chinese tech company in 2013, and retired from his position as executive chairman in 2019.
  • Amazon — In July 2021, Jeff Bezos officially handed the CEO position of Amazon over to former Amazon Web Services head Andy Jassy.
  • Apple: Tim Cook was left in charge of Apple in 2009 while Steve Jobs underwent medical treatment. Jobs returned to the company, but then put Cook in charge for another leave of absence in 2011, before permanently making him CEO later that year. Around the time of his 10-year anniversary as CEO of Apple in 2021, Tim Cook said he doesn’t intend to run the company for another decade.
  • ByteDance — Zhang Yiming, founder of the company that owns TikTok, announced he’d be stepping down as CEO this May. In an internal letter, he said he worried about “relying too much on the ideas I had before starting the company.”
  • Google — In August 2015, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin moved on to overseeing Alphabet, the holding company for Google’s disparate properties.
  • Instagram — In September 2018, Instagram’s co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger announced they were stepping down, reportedly after major disagreements with Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg.
  • Microsoft — Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ departure happened in many 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 his position on the board last year. Microsoft is currently being run by Satya Nadella, who acts as 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 that Sarandos was already helping lead (he’d been with the company for 20 years and was in charge of its original programming), and that him joining Hastings as CEO was just a formalization of his role.
  • Salesforce — Bret Taylor, who replaced Jack Dorsey as Twitter’s chairman of the board on Monday, is also becoming 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, will be sharing power, but it’s another instance of a former deputy starting to gain more power within a tech giant.
  • Twitter — On Monday, November 29th, Jack Dorsey announced he was leaving Twitter, and said “I’ve decided to leave Twitter because I believe the company is ready to move on from its founders.”

It’s probably worth noting that all of the founders listed above were men, and were replaced by men, which isn’t a great trend. There are a few notable women in power — Meta’s COO Sheryl Sandberg, and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki. As of this writing, neither has indicated whether they plan to depart their posts any time soon.

There are, of course, exceptions to the trend. The most notable is Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s complete control over Meta. He told the Verge in October that he doesn’t have plans to give up his job, and it’d be pretty much impossible for shareholders to force him out, thanks to the company’s stock structure.