EMI Music has hired Google's Chief Information Officer Douglas Merrill to be president of its digital business division, the latest high-profile executive to seek greener pastures away from the Googleplex.
However, it's hard to imagine that Google will have much trouble finding a good replacement for Merrill, considering that it's a company crawling with engineers, "a nerd's paradise" as a company official once called it.
In that sense, the loss of its CIO might be less painful for Google than, for example, the recent defection of Sheryl Sandberg, Google's vice president of global online sales and operations, to Facebook, where she became chief operating officer.
After all, Merrill was one among a very strong team of Google engineering vice presidents, including Vint Cerf, Stuart Feldman, Vic Gundotra, Udi Manber and Nelson Mattos, not to mention the company's top three executives -- Eric Schmidt, Larry Page and Sergey Brin -- who are all computer scientists. In that sense, Merrill's departure might have been felt more at a company that wasn't in the IT industry and had a limited number of computer scientists and engineers on its staff.
Still, Merrill's defection is definitely a public-relations blow for Google, which in the past year had apparently made a conscious effort to build up its CIO's public profile. Merrill spoke at industry events and granted one-on-one interviews to IT and general-interest magazines, ultimately achieving a higher level of recognition than the average CIO. This might explain why news of his job change has resonated so strongly across the blogosphere and in the technology press.
Certainly, the job of Google CIO is a big one and it remains to be seen if Merrill's departure will result in any degradation or destabilization of the IT services provided to employees, partners and customers, always a possibility after a high-level change like this one.
By the same token, time will tell if Merrill made the right decision leaving the Google environment, with its heavy emphasis on computer science and engineering, to go to a music company. The music industry's aggressive approach to combat Internet-enabled piracy via litigation has earned it the scorn of many Internet and computer companies. Merrill's Ph.D. in psychology might come in handy as he tries to instill a spirit of technology innovation in his new company.
EMI said Wednesday that Merrill's job will be to grow the record company's digital music business, heading what the company calls in a news release "a new global function" encompassing digital strategy, innovation, business development, supply chain and global technology activities.
He starts at EMI on April 28, based at EMI Music's Los Angeles headquarters.
Merrill spent five years at Google. As CIO and a vice president of engineering, he oversaw Google's global billing and revenue technology, along with internal engineering and support. His projects included the launch in 2006 of the Google Checkout online payment service.
"We thank him for all that he did at Google and wish him all the best in his next chapter," Google spokesman Matt Furman said.