Google employees complain about CEO Sundar Pichai’s pay raise as cost cuts hit rest of the company

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks at a panel at the CEO Summit of the Americas hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on June 09, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. The CEO Summit entered its second day of events with a formal signing for the “International Coalition to Connect Marine Protected Areas” and a speech from U.S. President Joe Biden. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Anna Moneymaker | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Google CEO Sundar Pichai received a hefty pay raise last year, making him one of the highest-paid CEOs in America. Last week, his company announced the authorization of a $70 billion stock buyback.

Meanwhile, Google parent Alphabet has been aggressively cutting costs, including the elimination of 12,000 jobs, in response to slowing revenue growth.

That confluence of events has raised the ire of Google’s workforce. In the weeks since Pichai’s annual compensation was made public, internal Google platforms have filled with conversations and memes slamming the CEO for taking a pay bump while slashing costs elsewhere. Some employees also criticized the share repurchase, which equaled its 2022 buyback.

SEC filings showed Pichai was paid a total of $226 million last year, mostly through $218 million in stock awards. His package included nearly $6 million for personal security and a $2 million base salary. In 2021, Pichai received a total of $6.3 million, consisting of a $2 million salary and $4.3 million in other compensation, but no stock awards.

Memes began circulating comparing Pichai to Apple CEO Tim Cook, who in January received over a 40% cut from his 2022 target total compensation. Around the same time, Zoom CEO Eric Yuan said he would reduce his salary by 98% and decline his bonus after the company cut 1,300 jobs. Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson said he’d also be taking a pay cut amid a 17% workforce reduction.

More than a dozen memes from employees have filled Google’s internal discussion forums, many with several hundred likes, according to posts viewed by CNBC. One meme with more than 1,200 likes referred to comments from finance chief Ruth Porat, who wrote last month in a rare companywide email that the company is making “multi-year” cuts to employee services. CNBC found cuts ranged from employee laptops and expenses to fitness classes and cafe items. 

“Ruth’s cost savings applied to everyone… except our hardworking VPS and CEO,” the meme said.

Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

It’s not the first time Pichai has been under fire for his recent decision making. In January, PIchai said he took “full responsibility” for conditions that led to the companywide layoffs.

At an all-hands meeting, employees asked Pichai why executives are getting pay cuts if he’s taking responsibility. Pichai responded by saying that senior vice presidents are taking “significant reductions to their bonuses” and that he was forgoing his bonus.

Another popular meme showed an image of Shrek character Lord Farquaad with the text “Sundar accepting $226 million while laying off 12k Googlers, cutting perks, and destroying morale and culture.” A quote from the character read, “some of you may die, but that is a sacrifice I am willing to make.”

In the computer-animated fantasy from 2001, Lord Farquaad is the ruler of Duloc who exiles many fairytale creatures to the swamp.

The topic of Pichai and money has been a controversial one dating back to late last year, when the CEO said at a companywide meeting that “we shouldn’t always equate fun with money.” At the time, he was responding to certain perks the company was eliminating, but he dodged employee questions about cutting executive compensation.

Some of the frustration is being directed at Google’s plan to repurchase $70 billion in stock, a sign the company has more than enough cash to cover its operations and investments. A recent meme that was liked more than 700 times read, “$70 billion in buybacks shows we respect external shareholders more than Googlers.”

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