Douglas Merrill Brain drain at Google?

The defection of Douglas Merrill, vice president of engineering at Google, is part of a growing trickle of senior managers to leave a company that topped Fortune magazine’s annual list of best companies to work for in 2007.

All the more surprising is that he’s leaving the college-like pastures of Googleplex for the growth-strapped music business at EMI to become head of EMI’s digital business. EMI announced earlier this year that it planned to cut some 2,000 jobs.

Google lost its vice president of global sales, Sheryl Sandberg, in March to Facebook. Then there’s George Reyes, Google CFO, who retired last year. Wired provides a longer list of defections and their new projects.

New York Times: “We have a deep bench and work hard to grow leaders within the company,” Google said in a statement. “We are attracting immensely talented people around the world, every day.”

Part of the exodus probably has to deal with the natural timeline of all hot IPOs, when stock options that vest in four- or five-year periods suddenly give executives more financial wiggle room, Wired says.