As Big Tech’s old guard bows out, a new age of conglomerates is born

When looking at any timeline’s history, you will find a turning point along its development; either it propels the timeline into the next frontier or brings it to a screeching halt.

Modern technology’s explosion into the data age was set in 2007. A year that set the tone for generations to come, birthing giants, affecting masses, and changing the dynamics of society as we know it.

Look back to a random day during 2007, some people are peaking at their MySpace pages, while others discover and experiment with something called Facebook – which had just hit 20 million users. Chitchat between you and friends on MSN Messenger discussed rumors that then-Apple CEO Steve Jobs will be looking to release a game-changing new phone.

You start to notice that a two-year-old platform called YouTube is beginning to take up a lot of your time, but you shrug it off and focus on the release of the new PlayStation 3 – this is before the great Adpocalypse was upon us, of course.

Information and data have just started to explode, with people looking to place more of themselves onto the internet, an idea enticed by the emergence of social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, pushing communication methods onto the forefront of consumer electronics and outlets.

According to a report by Nielsen, during the year 2000, U.S. citizens were sending an average of 35 texts per month; that number spiked to 218 readers during 2007 and was recorded as the first time in human history that we were sending texts more than making phone calls.

These changes have shaped how we conduct business and manage our daily lives and touched every fabric of human society, creating and destroying industries as time passed.

The leaders behind these innovations have had a profound effect on our lives, and we’ve sat back and watched these startups as they grew into trillion-dollar companies, testified in front of the world’s authorities, bring game-changing products to market while acquiring some of their competitors along the way.

“2007, I believe will be seen in time as the single greatest technological inflection point since Guttenberg invented the printing press,” said Thomas Friedman, New York Times financial columnist and best-selling author, in his keynote at IBM’s World of Watson this October.

These tech leaders have lived with us for almost a decade and a half, bloating their offering from a single service or product to an entire ecosystem of industries.

Birthing giants

Amazon, for example, has become an all-purpose company, operating online and bricks-and-mortar retail stores, sells outsourced computing services, runs a global logistics operation, produces movies, provides a social network built on streaming, dominates smart speakers, peddles home security services, aims to launch a satellite network, provides healthcare services, and last year acquired Zoox, a self-driving car company.

And that is just one of many.

The retail giant’s founder and former chief exec Jeff Bezos bowed out from Amazon earlier on July 5th; exactly, 27 years after founding the company in 1994. Bezos left the reins to head Amazon Web Services (AWS), Andy Jassy.

Under the founder’s leadership, the company thrived when the dot-com bubble bursted in the late 90s, reaching the forefront of the retail industry in both U.S. and EU markets.

Fast-forward 14 years later, and these same founders are bowing out one-by-one, either by sharing control, stepping down, pushed out, pivoting into other technological opportunities, or focusing on their philanthropy – or if you’re anything like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, seize complete control over his company until he transforms into a terminator.

But while the second richest man in the world has dived into his philanthropy via his Bezos Day One Fund – which aims to establish a network of nonprofit preschools and aid organizations working with homeless people – his focus shifted on space tourism through his Blue Origin aerospace company, fighting off other giants such as British business magnate Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.

The trillion-dollar incumbent

Another company that will be on the lookout for a new chief exec is Apple.

In August 2011, Apple’s visionary co-founder Steve Jobs resigned as CEO, handing the keys to one of the most valuable brands in the world to his protégé Tim Cook; six weeks later, Jobs died.

On the 10th anniversary of his rule over the iPhone maker, Cook hinted that he would step down sometime after 2025, a revelation justified by Bloomberg, who reported that Apple and Cook have a pay deal that runs out in 2025.

Cook’s Apple indeed underwent a golden age, allowing the company to grow more valuable than oil. He turned the business into a flurry of premium products and services, with the iPhone acting as the key to the sharply minted smart ecosystem.

But while Apple reached financial heights unlike any ever seen in the tech industry, one thing will be remembered of Cook’s reign: it wasn’t flashy. No game-changing products and no disruption on a hardware scale, just fine-tuning the iPhone, wearables, and an emphasis on an ecosystem of services and applications.

However, the main question that looms over Apple’s future after Cook takes a knee will be whether the company will look to maintain its focus on being a services business or repivot back into what put them on the map from the start: hardware.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the company is looking to unveil a head-mounted device with the potential of becoming as groundbreaking as the iPhone – which means that Apple is taking the fight directly to Meta Platforms’ frontline of its metaverse deep dive.

While 2022 is around the corner and is far from the 2025 rumored deadline of Cook’s departure as chief executive, many consider that he is laying the same groundwork for his successor to build on as Steve Jobs did for him with the iPhone.

From media to finance

On a more recent take, Twitter has been added to the list of founders that have moved on to other technological endeavors after announcing last week that he would be handing the keys to his microblogging empire to company CTO Parag Agrawal.

We’ve seen Dorsey steer the Twitter ship for almost a decade, dealing with everything from a misinformation outbreak to permanently booting Former U.S. President Donald Trump from the app following the January 6 assault on the Capitol Building in Washington.

The now-former social media chief has geared himself up to place his entire focus on his financial services company, Block Inc. – formerly known as Square Inc. as of December 1, 2021. Many critics have associated the name change as a nod to Dorsey’s fascination and interest in cryptocurrencies and the blockchain it operates on.

Block will become the name of the “corporate entity,” with Square continuing to be the company’s segment that helps people and businesses process payments, the company said in a news release.

Many have interpreted Dorsey’s departure as a fresh start into an industry that shies away from placing him on the testifying stand to defend his platform’s role in spreading misinformation, a reoccurring event for the past few years.

Passing of the corporate torch

Many other examples highlight the end of Big Tech’s first-generation guard, notably Microsoft’s Bill Gates, who has chosen to go down the philanthropic path with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Others, such as Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, have decided to remain off the radar by merely remaining on as board members with controlling shares in the company, handing the keys to the search giant to current CEO Sundar Pichai.

But winds of change of this magnitude translate into an entryway of another era of innovation. The entry of Big Tech’s new guard of chieftains was signaled by the slow death of the sprawling industrial conglomerates such as GE, Toshiba, Johnson & Johnson, DowDuPont Inc., and several others when they announced dividing up their units into public entities.

But as a business life cycle dwindles, another one takes on the mantle; the biggest companies on the planet look incredibly different from their predecessors. While GE was splitting its entities, Big Tech’s five companies expanded into other industries, services, hardware, software, and even universes.

The corporate passing of the torch has reached Big Tech, and it looks as though the leaders that will be ushering us into the new technological bubble are slowly being given their shot at steering the ship.

However, this shake-up in leadership reflects that Big Tech’s old guard has scaled and grown their respective businesses to the full extent of their abilities and is pushing to place the right people at the center of next-generation tech that will come along with it.

This is not an indication that these businesses have reached their peak, far from it, in fact. Still, there is an emphatic belief throughout Silicon Valley to groom a new breed of tech leaders, innovators, and visionaries to manage these companies corporately and keep the growth coming.

These main aim behind the pivot in leadership could be explain from different standpoints.

On one hand, tech companies have set more ambitious and tech-savvy goals for the coming decade, with the metaverse at the heart of it. Big Tech understands that what is required for the job ahead is a fresh start, as the key to the next digital frontier would be through wearables, and not through smartphones.

Smartphones will still have a role to play, but as the decade passes on, they will have to give up their mantel and limelight to other hardware technologies such as smart glasses, Meta’s sensory glove, and headsets to integrate artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual realities.

On the other hand, lies the policy and regulation side, where CEOs like Bezos, Zuckerberg, Cook, Dorsey, and others have been scrutinized by the U.S. authorities and media, with whistleblowers taking the forefront.

Thus, these newly minted Big Tech leaders have a mountain to climb from every area, but the responsibility laid at their feet will affect our relationship with consumer technology for the foreseeable future.