The crazy, eccentric, successful life of Google cofounder Sergey Brin

caption
Alphabet president and Google cofounder Sergey Brin.
source
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A little more than a year ago, Google pressed the reset button, completely overhauling its corporate structure through the formation of a brand new parent company called Alphabet.

This change comes nearly 20 years after cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin first launched Google from a dorm room in Stanford.

It’s been a wild ride for both of them since, but Brin’s history is especially intriguing.

Learn more about the man behind the world’s most popular search engine.

Jillian D’Onfro contributed to an earlier version of this story.


With the announcement of Alphabet, Brin got a title upgrade, transitioning from “director of special projects” at Google’s moonshot factory, X, to becoming president of the new parent company.

source
Re/code, Asa Mathat

All told, Brin is worth about $38.3 billion, according to Forbes.

source
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Source: Forbes


But Brin comes from humble beginnings. He was born to parents Michael and Eugenia Brin in the Soviet Union during the summer of 1973.

caption
St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow, 1976
source
Flickr / Janette Asche

At the time, his father Michael dreamed of being an astrophysicist, but anti-Semitism in Soviet Russia coupled with his Jewish background kept him from those ambitions and even made it hard for him to find work as a mathematician — he ended up working as an economist for a government planning agency, crunching numbers for Soviet propaganda. The family managed to get exit visas and flee the USSR when Sergey was six, but his family’s stressful, troubled experience left the Google cofounder with a lasting appreciation for democracy and freedom.

source
“Exploring Space – The Science Museum – Wikimedia

Source: In The Plex


The Brins ended up in Maryland, and Sergey’s parents enrolled him in a Montessori school that emphasized independence and fostering creativity (Google cofounder Larry Page also went to a Montessori school, as did Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos).

source
computerstories.net / Flickr/TED Conference

Brin first re-visited Moscow when he was 17 on a class trip led by his father. “Thank you for taking us all out of Russia,” he told Michael Brin solemnly. Spurred by a blossoming defiant streak, he threw pebbles at a police car, almost getting in serious trouble when the officers inside noticed.

source
Wikimedia Commons

Source: Moment Mag


Eventually, Brin earned his bachelor’s in mathematics and computer science at the University of Maryland, and then flew west to Stanford to get his PhD. There, his love of high-adrenaline exercise flourished, as he tried out skating, skiing, gymnastics, and even trapeze.

caption
For the launch of Google Glass, Brin live-streamed his sky-diving experience.
source
Google+, Sergey Brin

Source: Founders of Google and Moment Mag


Brin met Larry Page at Stanford in 1995. The two became close friends, geeking out about computer science. They started collaborating on a search engine they initially called BackRub.


They registered the domain Google.com in September 1997 with the mission to organize the world’s information. The rest is history.

caption
Here’s what Google.com looked like in 1997.
source
The Internet Archive

Both Brin and Page are “burners,” meaning they’re devout fans of Burning Man, the free-wheeling art festival in the middle of the Nevada desert. They created the first Google Doodle ever in 1998 to let people know they weren’t around to do damage control if the site broke. They eventually only approved the hire of former CEO Eric Schmidt after they heard he loved Burning Man, too.

source
Google

Even as the two cofounders started building what would become a multi-billion dollar company, Brin has remained loud-and-proud about his fitness obsession, counting workout clothes and Vibram barefoot shoes as his typical wardrobe and frequently zipping around on roller blades, doing yoga stretches during meetings, or walking around on his hands for fun.

source
jurvetson / Flickr, Amazon

Source: Business Insider


Brin also has a wild sense of humor, according to early Google employee Douglas Edwards. “He conducted job interviews once dressed as a cow,” Edwards told Fast Company. As an April Fools’ joke, he once told pregnant Google employees that he would be offering birthing classes.

source
Flickr/pepemczolz

Source: Fast Company


As Google ballooned from simply a search engine to a huge company with dozens of diverse projects, Brin has been the mastermind for some of the most ambitious ones, including self-driving cars, smart contact lenses, and Google Glass.

source
Ryan Mac/Twitter

Source: The New Yorker


For a long time, you couldn’t spot Brin *without* the computerized glasses. The New York Times reports that Brin may have played a big role in the product’s rocky launch, rushing it into the world before it was ready for public scrutiny.

source
Carlo Allegri/Reuters

Source: The New York Times


Meanwhile, Brin married Anne Wojcicki — CEO of genetics company 23andMe and sister of early Google employee Susan Wojcicki — in 2007.

source
Steve Jennings / Stringer

Their wedding entailed inviting guests to a secret location in the Bahamas and they both wore bathing suits for the ceremony, which took place on a sandbar. They have two children together.

source
Flickr/Daniel Piraino, Donald Bowers/Getty Images

Source: Vanity Fair


Over the years, the techie couple has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to charity, including at least $160 million to Parkinson’s research. It’s a cause that’s particularly important for Brin. The neurodegenerative disease runs in his family — both his great aunt and mother had it — and a test through 23andMe revealed that Brin has a genetic mutation that makes him predisposed.

source
Too

Source: Inside Philanthropy


To lower his chances of getting Parkinson’s, Brin started exercising even more intensely and drinking green tea twice a day. Thanks to his health regimen and scientific progress, he estimated in 2010 that he now has only a ~10% chance of getting the disease.

source
Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

Source: Wired


But not all of Brin’s lavish wealth goes to charitable causes. As of 2011, he, Page, and Schmidt had collectively purchased eight private jets. He owns real estate in New York City’s hip West Village and Los Altos in California.

source
Wendel Fisher/Flickr, Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images

Source: The Mercury News and Zillow


He has actually invested quite a bit of money in Los Altos, principally through a real estate investment firm called Passerelle Investment Co., which has helped mom-and-pop, kid-friendly stores and cafes spring up or stay in business.

caption
Idyllic Los Altos
source
Flickr / Tina Case

Source: Wall Street Journal


Brin also employs at least 47 people to manage his personal affairs— including a yacht captain, personal shopper, and a former Navy SEAL — through a company called Bayshore Global Management.

source
REUTERS/Chip East

Source: Bloomberg and New Zealand Herald


Brin hasn’t had the kind of smooth-sailing in his love-life as he did in starting a career though. Unfortunately, his marriage to Wojcicki hit the rocks when Brin allegedly had an affair with a fellow Google employee in 2013. The couple officially finalized a divorce in June 2015, after eight years of marriage.

caption
Amanda Rosenberg, the woman Brin allegedly had an affair with, with her previous boyfriend and former Google-exec Hugo Barra. Brin and Rosenberg are no longer romantically connected.
source
Amanda Rosenberg’s Google+ Page

Source: Vanity Fair and Business Insider


“Obviously everyone wants to be successful, but I want to be looked back on as being very innovative, very trusted and ethical,” Brin has said. “And ultimately making a big difference in the world.”

source
Screenshot

Source: Vanity Fair and ABC News


(Here he is “hanging out” with whistle-blower Edward Snowden at a 2014 TED conference.)

source
Chris Anderson

Source: TechCrunch


Those who have known him attest to the fact that he truly does believe in using knowledge and power for the greater good. The Economist once called him the Enlightenment Man for his dedication to using reason and science to solve huge world problems.

source
Getty Images / Justin Sullivan

Source: The Economist


Brin admitted on stage at the 2014 Code Conference that he should never have worked on the company’s now-dismantled social network Google+ because he’s not very social and, actually, “kind of a weirdo.”

Source: Business Insider


But, certainly a rich one, at any rate. After Google delivered a bang-up Q1 earnings report in 2015, the stock had its largest one-day rally ever at the time, and both Brin and Page added about $4 billion to their fortunes.

source
Getty Images, Justin Sullivan

Source: Business Insider


Now that he’s president of Alphabet, he’ll likely keep spouting innovative ideas to help steer the company. “We are still trying to do things other people think are crazy but we are super excited about,” Page wrote about he and Brin’s mission in the Alphabet announcement.

source
Getty, Matthew Peyton