Google has a new chief executive. Company co-founder Larry Page took over the reins of the internet giant on Monday from Eric Schmidt, who was brought on board in 2001 to provide “adult supervision” to the then-young company, and who will now serve as chairman.
The company announced the move in January, ending a 10-year stint in which Schmidt ran the company through an elaborate decision-sharing system in a triumvirate with Page, 38, and Sergey Brin, 37, the other co-founder of Google.
All three are among the richest people in the world, with the two co-founders’ fortunes each estimated by Forbes to be around 20 billion dollars, while Schmidt is worth some 6 billion dollars.
Page, who was chief executive until 2001, is expected to attempt to revitalize Google and return the world’s leading search engine and mobile software company to its aggressive start-up roots, after largely missing out on the social networking trend that allowed the rise of new rivals like Facebook and Twitter.
The Michigan-born computer scientist is widely regarded as a technology visionary with an astute business mind. But his patience — or lack of it — for those he regards as his intellectual inferiors has been frequently criticized. So has his brusquely honest and often undiplomatic approach to issues, where a deft touch might prove more successful.
It may or may not have been coincidental that Google’s first major announcement following Page’s appointment was a 900-million-dollar bid for the patent portfolio of Nortel, a move described by BusinessInsider.com as “exactly the kind of move everyone said Page’s Google would start making — a bold use of Google’s huge pile of cash to solve a problem quickly.” But Google’s problems extend far beyond the relative paucity of its patent portfolio.
The company is facing a rising tide of antitrust issues in both the EU and US. It agreed last week to a 20-year oversight review of its privacy practices by the Federal Trade Commission to settle complaints about privacy violations stemming from Buzz, Google’s ill-fated social-networking initiative.
The company was rebuffed last month when a US judge rejected its plan to digitize millions of books to create the world’s largest digital library.
But the biggest problem facing Google, a company that has grown at warp speed to more than 24,000 employees in 40 countries with revenue of 29 billion dollars, is that under Schmidt it became too big to innovate nimbly.
According to analyst Trip Chowdry, the company’s sprawling R&D efforts are draining Google’s focus and resources, and some 60 per cent of projects could be shut down. “Many stupid, hobby—type projects are getting the management attention and the resources, and the problem was the old CEO never took a hard look at these projects,” he wrote in a research note.
The problem is that while many of these projects will undoubtedly prove tangential to Google’s future, one of them may yield the company’s next big hit — the surprising application that will allow Google to expand beyond its two main arenas of internet search and smartphone operating systems.
Page has set the tone for his reign by announcing that senior managers will meet daily in a public area of its Mountain View headquarters to improve their approachability. He has canvassed workers for ideas to make meetings more productive — like appointing a decision maker and refraining from using smartphones and laptops.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Page will focus on improving Google’s graphic online ad business, its YouTube revenues, Android mobile software, and its Google Apps business software. But the company will continue its focus on alternative energy initiatives and driver—less car technology.
Page’s challenge, says management guru Adam Hartung, is to prepare Google for the inevitable market shifts that continually reshape the tech world and have led to the demise of such landmark names as Cray, Netscape, Wang, Sun Microsystems and Silicon Graphics.
“Nobody appears to have the job of making sure good ideas stay inside Google and are developed, rather than slipping outside for another company to exploit,” Hartung says.
“(Page) needs to make sure Google is constantly, consistently and rapidly implementing and managing teams to find the next growth opportunities that keep Google vibrant for customers, employees, suppliers and investors.”