Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Glimpse On The Top of Google

I am not a Google watcher, just an outsider who is somehow bothered by what Google has done in the past simply because personally I use so much of Google’s products and services, and from a prospective of “Managing the information of the world”, I fit perfectly in the trap that Google has built.

After Eric Schmidt told the press that he would like to, if possible, hold the CEO position of Google as long as it takes, nobody questioned the possibility of that at the time he made the statement. It turned out that, two out of the Google Trio, and actually the two founders of the company Google, both with strong technical and engineering background, have a different prospective and approach in the method that the company should be managed, and thus Eric Schmidt is now, in his own words, “Day-to-day adult supervision no longer needed!” (I am not arguing that Eric Schmidt does not have a strong technical background, a Computer Science PHD from UC Berkeley is at least equivalent, if not superior, to that of the academic credential from Page and Brin, as I am also from the North Bay rather than the South).

What surprised me, or stunned me, from the event of “Eric Schmidt Promotion” is that, even at Google, arguably the world’s most admired company in terms of business model, innovation, and talent management, things could get personal, and that could put the most admired company at risk.

There is no question about the intelligence of Brin and Page, as it seemed to have become a known fact with the success of Google that the two founded from the lab of Stanford. There is no doubt about the experience of Schmidt, as he has already become a seasoned and successful executive before he joined Google. There should be no worry about the fit of the founders and the CEO in what they called “Google Trio”, because we have witnessed over the past decade how Google grew and made other competitors envy. But, and this is a big BUT, when founders’ intelligence meets the mundane practice, when personal beliefs meet “the practice of the herd”, the problem of fit emerges.

The first event I witnessed the problem was when Google announced that the company will consider to exit from the China market in early 2010. I couldn’t help myself to wrote an article about that. At the time I could not believe that a company like Google can make such a careless and presumptuous decision similar to young kids fighting against each other. I have written much in my blog, so not to repeat myself here. I would like to believe, like what Schmidt said afterwards, that he personally does not want to quit China. I also believe that Schmidt may have sit against this decision because it was Brin who came out to the public and explained to the Google China employees how the company will handle the problem. It was a CEO’s job in this kind of circumstances, and Schmidt chose, or was forced to, sit behind. Now, when the dust of “Quit China Drama” is settling down, it is reasonable to assume (we as outsiders will probably never know what really happened during the discussions of the Google Trio) that Schmidt was sitting against the other two, and “adult supervision” didn’t go through at the beginning of the drama as Google made the announcement to quit China, but in the end came to effect as the stakes became higher and higher.

Schmidt may have shouldered the critisms of Steve Jobs to Google on behalf of the other two as well – this is my personal guess. As the most public figure, and assumed to be the leader of the company in the capacity of a CEO, Schmidt is at the par position of Steve Jobs. When Google decided to enter into the mobile phone business and thus became a competitor to Apple, Schmidt surely would understand the effect, in his capacity of sitting on the board of Apple, and the conflicts of interests. It would be really blunt to assume that Schmidt tried to take advantage rather than try to deliberately avoid the conflict of interest issue at the beginning. The real decision at Google, however, is made by the two founders who were in charge of the products and thus the strategy of the company. Schmidt here, even he may have raised the problem, may have been omitted in a deliberate way. But in the end he is shouldering the storm. And again this will add to the complexities and the difficulty at the top of the management of Google, and made the day to day management among the three an uneasy deed.

In the field of technology and product development, Brin and Page and the engineers alike are no doubt very smart and know exactly what they are doing. In the areas of dealing with human beings in a more matured manner, and in a broader sense such as dealing with the Chinese government, experiences in many cases will take over intelligence. There is no doubt that the two founders of Google possess strong beliefs, and their success with Google in the product and technology field has added to their belief that their way can work. But when come down to mingling through the ways to get things done and still make everybody happy, or at least the majority of the parties happy, adult experiences do count. Old school, believe it or not, has its value. And when the two become older, they will find out eventually that they can become part of the old school as well.

I personally have experienced very similar situations. I of course am not Eric Schmidt, not even close. And the people I was dealing with, although I would say they might be at the same intelligent level of Page and Brin, did not have the same capacity. But the problems I encountered were very similar. Adult parenting vs. na├»ve preoccupied minds became a day to day problem rather than a joy. It is good to have someone tap on your back and say, “good job kid”, but the kid himself rarely realize the value of this. I reserve my personal sympathy to what happened to Schmidt, as it seems to be like fighting a losing battle for him against the two founders, but he really did a great job in parenting Google for a decade and made the company grow so fast and become so powerful in such a short time.