Google Gets a Single Leader with Schmidt Shift

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Everyone who is anyone in the technology blogosphere (including IT Business Edge contributor Rob Enderle) is commenting on the seemingly abrupt management change at Google, in which co-founder Larry Page will take over as CEO while Eric Schmidt moves into an executive chairman role, focused on relationships with partners, government agencies and other outside entities. I'm not really anybody, but I thought I'd mention some of the more interesting items I've seen about the switch and offer my own two cents.


Last month I finally read the book "Googled: The End of the World as We Know It" by The New Yorker's Ken Auletta (recommended), so I was particularly interested in Auletta's opinion on Schmidt's move. Schmidt is a man who feels his work at Google is essentially done and is no longer energized by it or passionate about it, writes Auletta in a New Yorker piece. And energy and passion will be increasingly important as Google tries to handle competitive challenges from Facebook and to retain its startup mindset as its structure becomes more bureaucratic. Though the official announcement made no mention of Schmidt leaving the company, Auletta says he'll do so in a year.


Is Page the right man to lead the company? Maybe, writes Auletta, but he'll need to change:

He is a very private man, who often in meetings looks down at his hand-held Android device, who is not a comfortable public speaker, who hates to have a regimented schedule, who thinks it is an inefficient use of his time to invest too much of it in meetings with journalists or analysts or governments. As CEO, the private man will have to become more public. And he will have to rid himself of a proclivity most engineers have: they are really bad at things they can't measure. Like fears about Google's size, and privacy and copyright and how to deal with governments that are weak at measurement but rife with paranoia.

To Auletta's latter point, that is likely why Schmidt will remain at Google for the time being. Schmidt's relationship with Page, generally portrayed as an amicable one, may determine how Page performs, writes Amanda Andrews for The Telegraph:

... Did Schmidt really want to step down or did he have little choice? While it is easy to reach the assumption that this was provoked by tension among the trio, some say Schmidt was tired of being Google's public face. Whatever the case, tensions must be put aside. Page needs to keep asking the grown-up's advice, even if he is now a big boy. At least for the next year or two, as he settles in. Schmidt may not be the creator but he's the deal maker and strategist. He is the one used to tackling the constant battles with regulators, answering questions about Google's tax havens and making major M&A decisions.

SiliconValley.com's Chris O'Brien mentions acquisitions as one of Google's strengths and says continuing to make strategic acquisitions is one of the items on Page's formidable to-do list (which I think he does a great job of summarizing). The other items:

  • Improving search. Some say the quality of Google's search is declining. Microsoft's Bing has gained market share and, more importantly, is earning a reputation for innovative features. More searches are occurring on social sites like Facebook.
  • Social networking. O'Brien says Google has "utterly failed on what is arguably the Web's next big thing." With folks spending more and more time on social sites, advertisers will begin moving more dollars there, he writes.
  • Mobility. It remains to be seen whether Google's Android can pose a challenge to Apple in the tablet market or whether Verizon's decision to add the iPhone to its lineup will erode some of Android's success in mobile phones.
  • Product development. This has taken on a "spastic quality," says O'Brien and Page will have to "find a way to channel the freewheeling innovative instinct into a more efficient system for creating new products. And he needs to build a culture that can execute these ideas and turn them into successes once they do launch." This apparent lack of focus at Google is an issue I've written about before.


Those challenges are also mentioned in a Reuters piece penned by Jeff Jarvis, author of "What Would Google Do?" He calls scale Google's greatest challenge as well as its greatest strength:

... It scaled search (vs. quaint Yahoo, which thought it could catalogue this web thing). It scaled advertising (vs. the media companies that today don't know how to grow, only shrink). It is scaling mobile (by giving away Android). It has tried to scale innovation (with its 20 percent rule) - but that's the toughest.

Jarvis concludes that Google's management-by-committee approach (with Schmidt, Page and co-founder Sergey Brin) simply wasn't a long-term workable model. Noting that disagreements led to inaction, "it has become apparent that Google became less nimble and more clumsily uncoordinated," Jarvis writes. What's needed now is "clearer vision and strategy and more decisive communication and execution of it."


Few folks would use "clearer" and "more decisive" to describe a situation with more than one top leader. I concluded as much when I wrote about co-CEOs, which was essentially the defacto practice at Google even though only Schmidt held the title.