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They’re Putting Larry Page in Charge of Google. [Really?]

Posted January 20th, 2011 by Andrew Goodman

Out here in “the-rest-of-us”-land, $50 million and up is a lot of money. $500 million and up is a whole lot of money. For “us,” above a certain level of wealth, you could offer the most interesting project in the world, and we might not be as interested in it as compared with, say, doing sweet jack all.

Not so for “the driven.” What would Tim Armstrong be thinking, wanting to go run AOL, instead of just playing around as an angel investor and attending summits and golf tournaments? Of course part of the appeal must have been to have the opportunity to meet a challenge that hadn’t been met; to be recognized; to be in charge or on top.

It seems that “we” regulars just don’t get it. We’re often told that in Silicon Valley, or among the “passionate,” “driven,” classes, it’s business as usual no matter how much you’re worth. And for a precious few, that’s true. It’s more likely, though, if in addition to having a whole lot of money squirreled away, and being passionate, and driven, you also get to run the show.

As it turns out, well-off Googlers aren’t completely different from the rest of us. Although there are quite a few high-profile folks at the company who work as hard as ever, it’s simply human nature that others — even some who formerly claimed that they would be “running Google forever” — wake up one day and say, “thanks very much, and good luck to you.”

So what are we to make of today’s Google Executive Shuffle?

1. Googlers are, more often than we realize, just like the rest of us. They and Silicon Valley culture may be better at hiding it. (But sometimes, worse.) The coolness of the job(s) and the high additional pay keeps them there longer than some of us might stay, having vested to the tune of $10 million or more, but I’m sure you could easily name hundreds of Googlers who have headed for the hills (or just started working a lot less hard) once they’ve reached that magic number. To retain such people actually requires insanely high pay, among other things. It’s hardly worth the money given how much talent is out there that will work for less.

2. This move is strangely reassuring because it feels like it is just confirming what had already evolved. In a way, all of these shifts had already happened. Imagine a couple of years of frustration of everybody checking with everyone else in the triumvirate, in odd and uncertain ways, when it started to seem neater and cleaner to go with Mr. Page as CEO.

3. Larry Page just got himself a bona fide, genuine, real-time job! It seems like the mature thing to do. Nice going, and all. But… This is possibly the most curious part of the whole thing. Will it last? Why does he want to do this? Probably the wrong questions to ask, given that Page has likely been “running Google” for a long time, and a lot more directly than we outsiders have been aware. Not to take anything away from the heavy involvement of the other two. Only in ultra-earnest Google culture would you see this kind of “well, young Larry’s been prepping for this formal type of role for a long time, and we think he’s doggone ready!” approach. The same thing is going on across the company, where Google’s process relentlessly trains and prepares very young, then a bit less young, and then still young but enormously seasoned and formally prepared, Googlers performing a wide range of functions. Personally, I think it’s flat-out silly to have someone like Larry Page wasting his time doing CEO stuff. But that’s Google. I’m sure he’ll ignore the CEO stuff he doesn’t care for (that’s the Executive Chairman’s, or ten other people’s, concern). It’s bound to cause headaches down the road, but again, when you and your closest best friends’ net worth runs to the billions, headaches don’t hurt as much.

4. Eric Schmidt’s tired of playing dad for very high pay, so he is gradually departing, starting with this move to recede into the Executive Chairman role. Especially since the vested shares in the company are worth many times that pay. By the time I stop typing this, Schmidt’s net worth will be about $6 billion. Do you think someone in those shoes will want to do this type of monkey work much longer? Schmidt’s parting tweet strikes an oddly casual note: “Day-to-day adult supervision no longer needed!” Is Schmidt plumping for the CEO job at Facebook? Expect Schmidt to spend more time on his hobbies, if he doesn’t care for the FB gig. (And plus, we can only hope, that’s ex-Googler Sheryl’s future job.)

5. Sergey Brin gets stripped of all titles other than co-founder. Either the others ganged up on him as some kind of enfant terrible who needed to be relieved of a formal operational role, or he is simply relishing the subtle power of being Late Stage Bill Gates Meets Wannabe Steve Jobs. Special projects both within and outside of Google, no doubt, no doubt driving innovation on world-changing technologies, but with no particular commitments made as to which projects, how much time spent, or specifics of the roles. Works for me. In his shoes, I’d be way happier than Larry; I also wouldn’t want any title other than Co-Founder.

6. Impossibly geeky people, no matter how seasoned, are so un-self-aware that it is possible that they put together this publicity photo completely oblivious of the hilariously obvious symbolism. Or maybe they’re aware of it and thought it was funny. In which case, maybe they don’t realize how it mocks the rest of us who actually take them all a little too seriously. In the photo, Larry’s driving. Yessir, he’s in charge now. Young Sergey’s in the back seat, firmly restrained. No chance he’s going to disrupt anything. And Eric, the ex-dad, is saying: “Have fun, boys. I”m done here!” He’s not getting into the car. His real car and driver are pulling up just off screen.

6a. This company, and this photo, really needs a Mom. But as mentioned, some time ago she departed for Facebook.

7. Will Aunt Marissa be taking over when Larry grinds the gears?

8. Google has invented a self-driving car. You can be sure they’re working on a self-driving company.


3 Responses to “They’re Putting Larry Page in Charge of Google. [Really?]”

  1. I wonder how much of this is linked to the recent EU anti-trust investigations of Google. I don’t see this ending well. I would split the company up in two right now: the search part would command a huge multiple, wrongly. And the auction part could slip out the door into the hands of adults.

  2. Here is probably the most detailed analysis that I have read on what this change means,

  3. Other than misusing the word “penultimate,” the gentleman has some pretty good points.

    What we are likely missing here, though, is how Google’s public facing aspects are much more powerful than what a single person like a CEO can deliver. In Ken Auletta’s book, Googled, the PR department of 130 (+) people at Google lamented that Larry Page booked a total of eight hours for public interaction… for an entire calendar year. But this is part of the point: with 130 (+) people in PR, shepherding and managing interactions with hundreds of able executives, project managers, etc. (Chief Economist Hal Varian chalk talks, a great example), Google is public facing without relying on the CEO to be the public face.

    Is this chaotic, as opposed to the old way of communicating tightly controlled messages? I believe it’s neither. You can’t control all messages, so what you need to do is foster a bit more openness and public savvy across several hundred of your most public-facing employees. It goes way beyond Matt Cutts… although I think some people actually think Matt is the CEO of Google ;)


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