Creator takes charge to guide Google

Creator takes charge to guide Google

Larry Pages move to CEO will test his skills at handling daily grind of running business

IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT Larry Page

Things he would be happy to live without: long meetings, press conferences and a regimented schedule.

But Page, Google co-founder, will have to get used to those things quickly as he prepares to take over the chief executive role from Eric E Schmidt in April. The move will test whether Page, a reserved person who thrives on intellectual challenges, has developed the skills to handle the daily grind of running a business, along with the internal politics and external showmanship that come with the job.

Google, which has proved its ability to mint money with its online advertising systems, is trying to maintain its status as an engine of innovation. Page, 38, said he wanted to reinject Google with the speed and nimbleness that it once had as a start-up, before it swelled to 24,400 employees and $29.3 billion in annual revenue.

The challenge for Page will be to keep that big machine humming while at the same time taking the company back to its roots. How well he does this could determine whether Google can come up with another giant hit — a feat that few successful technology companies have pulled off.

People who have worked with Page say his insatiable demand for quick decisions and innovative ideas will light a fire at Google, where product development has slowed as competition from Facebook and others has grown fiercer.

Page, whom friends and colleagues describe as shy and private, has avoided public appearances, letting Schmidt handle speeches and interviews with reporters and analysts. Sergey Brin, Google’s other co-founder, has appeared at recent press conferences and Google events more often than Page has.

Still, Google insiders say, Page has already been playing a broader role outside the company than some people see. He has represented Google in some meetings with policy makers and regulators.

Peace maker

After Schmidt was hired in 2001, Page served as president for product; Brin is president for technology. Inside the company, the co-founders have long played a decision-making role, with Schmidt frequently deferring to them, former Google executives say. A key part of Schmidt’s role was as peacemaker. This meant softening the founders’ sometimes harsh feedback to employees, carrying out their wishes and smoothing over differences when they arose, all while managing the competing demands and interests of the executives reporting to him.

The former executives, said a big question was whether Page would be able to play that internal management role effectively, and if not, whether he would hire a chief operating officer to handle it.

Page acknowledges that his role would change but said his passion was still creating products. “Google is a product company, so there’s a number of elements obviously involved in running the day-to-day operations of Google, but at its heart, we are a product and technology company,” Page said.  The two said they wanted to focus on introducing real-time information and social networking features into their Web search products. Google has been criticized for being slow to embrace the social Web. Brin said what Google had done so far, like incorporating Twitter posts into search results, “is really just the tip of the iceberg.” Page said he wanted to speed up decision-making and product development inside Google. One way that might be done is cutting through big-company processes that have slowed things down.

For example, Google engineers sign up to present their projects at regular Tuesday meetings, a process started by Schmidt. But these grew so big and the wait list so long that the founders grew tired of them. They started their own technical review meetings on Fridays, with far fewer people invited, Google employees said.

But even if Page makes it easier for engineers to hatch new ideas, there is no guarantee
that the next Facebook will grow out of Google. The vast majority of new tech endeavors fail — Wave, a collaboration tool that began as an independent project inside Google and was shut down last year, is one example.

Google employees said they hoped Page’s biggest impact would be in providing a jolt of inspiration. He gave a glimpse of that, along with a rare public display of emotion, in a commencement speech at the University of Michigan, his alma mater, last year. “I think it is often easier to make progress on mega-ambitious dreams,” he said. “I know that sounds completely nuts. But, since no one else is crazy enough to do it,  you have little competition.”

Meanwhile, investors and industry insiders were wondering if he is up to a now very different job, reports Reuters. The 38-year-old co-founder is replacing Schmidt as CEO at a time when Google Inc is facing tough competition from Facebook and Twitter. It seems straight out of a well-worn Silicon Valley script — but with which ending?

Steve Jobs returned to Apple Inc in the 1990s to save the company he founded from near insolvency. Since his return, Apple has set the agenda in technology and culture with the iPhone and iPad. Yahoo Inc’s Jerry Yang made a similar comeback, returning to his Internet company during a troubled stretch, but failed to restore its fortunes.

For Google, which dominates the search market and generated roughly $29 billion in revenue last year, the need for a change lacks the urgency that accompanied Jobs’ return to Apple. But analysts say the popularity of social networking services like Facebook, Twitter, as well as online coupon service Groupon, pose a growing threat to Google’s business.

Page, who co-founded Google with Sergey Brin 13 years ago, will try to steer the company back to the forefront of Web innovation but must also run day-to-day operations of a 24,000-person organisation — a far cry from his last time at the helm. Google hopes the management change will speed up decision-making.

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