MOUNTAIN VIEW -- Google (GOOG) announced Friday that one of its longtime senior executives, Shona Brown, is leaving after nearly 10 years to work as a consultant and adviser to startups and nonprofits.
Brown, 46, is widely credited with developing the Internet giant's internal processes, including hiring and human resources, while overseeing business operations and strategy during a period of tremendous growth that started before the company went public in 2004.
As head of "People Operations" and "Business Operations," Brown was one of a relatively small number of women to hold a top-level management position at Google. She moved to a lower-profile job in 2011 when co-founder Larry Page became CEO and reorganized the company's senior ranks.
For the past 18 months, Brown has led Google's "social impact" programs, including its philanthropic efforts and Google.org, a group within the company that works on data-driven technology approaches to social problems such as epidemics and natural disasters.
During her time as head of operations, Brown also led an initiative to build Google's business in sub-Saharan Africa, where Internet access was scarce, and developed Google's strategy for investing nearly $1 billion in wind and solar energy ventures.
While the company said she will have an unspecified "advisory role" at Google, Brown said she is looking forward to coaching smaller organizations on how to get bigger. "I think the world could be a better place if we can create more Googles," she told this newspaper. "If I can be a part of that, that will be fun to do."
Google said Vice President Matthew Stepka will take over social programs. In a statement Friday, Page said: "Shona has played a big role in making Google the company that it is today, helping us reach some of our most ambitious goals." He added, "We're very fortunate that we will be able to lean on her as an adviser going forward."
Brown, who previously worked as a McKinsey business consultant, said she was recruited by Google in 2003 when the company sought management experience to balance a leadership team that was heavier on technical expertise. When Page reorganized last year, Brown was one of several male and female executives who changed jobs, leaving only one woman, advertising chief Susan Wojcicki, in the circle of Page's closest lieutenants.
Another longtime Google executive, Marissa Mayer, oversaw key products for several years but moved to what many viewed as a less influential post in 2010, before leaving this year to become CEO at Yahoo (YHOO).
Hiring and promoting women is "a challenge" for the tech industry overall, Brown said. While a Google representative declined to give a current breakdown, The New York Times reported last summer that women were a third of the company's workforce. Google employs about 36,000 people, excluding its newly acquired Motorola division.
"What we found was we had to dedicate resources that were focused on hiring women," Brown said. "We ended up putting four times as many resources into bringing in women than we did with men. I think we had a terrific track record."
In response to criticism that Google has few women in senior management, Brown said there are numerous women at levels just below the top circle. "I think Google stacks up very well compared to other tech companies," she said, while conceding, "that may not be a terrifically high bar."
Contact Brandon Bailey at 408-920-5022; follow him at Twitter.com/BrandonBailey.