Alphabet Brings in Veteran Fixer to Rework Fiber Division

  • Longtime product guru Jonathan Rosenberg joins Access arm
  • Executive served similar role at Google’s robotics unit

When Google’s robotics division hit trouble in early 2015, co-founder Larry Page brought in a trusted company veteran to steer the group. Now Page, chief executive officer of Google parent Alphabet Inc., has recruited the same person to helm the Google Fiber unit.

Jonathan Rosenberg, a longtime Google product executive who advises Page, was recently appointed as a counselor to Alphabet’s Access unit, which oversees the Fiber broadband operations, according to two people familiar with the decision.

That comes after Access Chief Executive Officer Craig Barratt stepped down earlier this week. Rosenberg’s assignment suggests another move by Alphabet to impose fiscal discipline and improve corporate governance at Other Bets businesses like Fiber and Nest. An Alphabet spokeswoman declined to comment.

Alphabet (3)

Barratt announced his departure at an all-hands Access meeting on Tuesday. Simultaneously, Google Fiber said it was pulling back fiber-to-the-home expansion plans in eight major urban markets and shedding nine percent of its staff. Alphabet said a trio of Fiber executives would run the division temporarily, but did not appoint a direct replacement for Barratt.

Page’s Fixer

The role of troubleshooter is not new to Rosenberg, a widely respected figure at Google. For years, he served as the top product executive during Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt’s tenure as Google CEO, managing successful offerings in advertising, search and Android. In 2014, he led the operating committee at Motorola Mobility as Google prepared to sell the phone maker to Lenovo Group Ltd.

Rosenberg also has broadband experience. Before joining Google in 2002, Rosenberg ran product and services for Excite@Home, an early -- albeit troubled -- high-speed internet service provider.

His stint at Google’s robotics unit, called Replicant internally, was less about expansion than trimming. Andy Rubin, the former chief of Android, led an acquisition spree in 2013 that brought in roughly 300 robotics engineers. Rubin unexpectedly left a year later and Rosenberg took over some time in 2015.

Last November, Rosenberg ran a meeting that raised concern about spending at one of the company’s largest robotics businesses, Boston Dynamics, according to a memo obtained by Bloomberg News. Soon after, Google tried to sell Boston Dynamics, although a deal has yet to materialize.

In January, Alphabet hired Hans Peter Brondmo, a former Nokia executive, to run Replicant, relieving Rosenberg of his interim duties.

Fiscal Discipline

Some investors may be eager to see similar fiscal restraint at Google Fiber, which has been the most costly unit outside of the main Google business. On Thursday, Alphabet reported quarterly results that included reduced spending and smaller losses at the Other Bets businesses.

"Google appears to finally be reining in costs in Other Bets we believe in large part driven by a rationalization in Access," Michael Nathanson, analyst at MoffettNathanson, wrote in a Friday research note.

On Thursday, Alphabet also deflect concerns about high-level departures at divisions outside of Google. The company has a "deep bench" of senior leadership, an Alphabet executive said.

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