Google's hiring practices are a valley joke. Its solid efforts like Android and search are offset by a growing image of a company that may redefine the word evil in the market, and the firm has yet to learn how to really market who it is or what it does. It just had to reprice its employee options, which is partially a problem of the economy but it's also a problem neither Apple nor Microsoft had. As a result, Google's strengths remain with the founders, and it appears that the super nanny remains largely on a highly paid vacation. He is going to be incredibly wealthy, regardless, but when his tale is told, if Google is successful, he will appear as the empty suit. And if Google isn't, he'll likely be a great deal of the cause. He didn't do his job (it often looks like he still thinks he is a CTO). The role of a startup super nanny will shortly be redundant in Google because it is starting to mature. Eric Schmidt needs to make sure he steps up before he steps out, or cash and regrets will be his only final rewards. Granted, a lot of cash.
Microsoft: The Search for Fire
There is no doubt that Steve Ballmer shares the success of Microsoft through the '90s. He is largely credited with keeping the company focused and on making it the enterprise and world power it became in partnership with Bill Gates. But as a CEO he has been timid, afraid to be himself because he doesn't fit the template of the Stepford CEOs that financial analysts seem to prefer. We, and I mean analysts and reporters, probably helped do this to him by pounding on him when he looked different.
Microsoft's core problem, in my opinion, isn't that it lacks success; it dominates a number of markets still. But the company has become too complex to manage over time and both Steve and Bill have been too reticent to eliminate units that are underperforming or that were bad ideas to begin with. We shouldn't forget that Microsoft had some stunning successes in Windows Server, interoperablity, Windows 7, and even going toe to toe with Apple in marketing for once. Companies make mistakes with products, and there is a rather impressive list of failures for Microsoft this decade (it is interesting to note that Google appears to match Microsoft in the top 10 stupid failure list), as well as with divisions. Steve Jobs and Sam Palmisano are two of the very few CEOs that did this well this decade and both got grief initially for doing it. A lot of grief. But it still needs to be done.
I wouldn't trade places with Steve Jobs or Steve Ballmer for any price. Jobs is too wedded to his job and Ballmer is tied up by concerns that are all too common in executive jobs and afraid to be himself. I wouldn't mind trying Eric's job, but have never really aspired to being the highest paid nanny in existence and that job isn't easy, either.
For each of these men, and for each of us, the first day of the rest of our lives starts tomorrow. Some of us will step up and make it what it could be, most of us won't, and this is no different for these executives. CEOs, for all the money and power they have, are generally trapped by the trappings of the job, manipulated by others, and sacrifice family and quality of life for strangers and financial rewards.
Here in the valley, it also seems like mistresses are a perk and it is amazing how much infidelity and false friendships surround many CEOs (who think folks don't know they are cheating). Their children are often badly damaged from the side effects of too much wealth and too little supervision, and they leave their jobs with little in the way of a real life. Often, the ones I've known I've pitied as much as admired. As we leave this decade, we may want to remember, in the things that matter, that many of us have more of them than the CEOs we envy.
If you have a strong family, a life after work, and retire to a happy home, many of those executives will end up envying you, and I say this with some experience. I hope we all do a better job remembering what is important this next decade and I particularly hope my friend Steve finds his way.