Imagine Larry Page and Google in a Silicon Valley production of Shakespeare’s famous comedy, A Midsummer’s Night Dream, wherein all the characters are played by the internet’s most well-known denizens. Sue Gardner, the executive director of Wikimedia Foundation, could play Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazon women. The entire company of Microsoft could play Oberon, king of the faeries, whose misdeeds set the play’s whole plot into action. Mark Zuckerberg, the “I’m the CEO… bitch” of Facebook, could play Nick Bottom – the show’s accidental star who doesn’t even realize he’s a bit of an ass.
Yet who would play the show’s main star, the prankish, lovable, and innovative faerie, Puck? Steve Jobs might be the obvious choice, whose magical potions have made the whole world unwittingly fall in love with Apple, but then again there’s also Google‘s Larry Page. Larry Page might not have quite the notoriety of Jobs, but he’s certainly prankish and puckish, and though the world’s love affair with Google seems to be waning, now that Larry Page has taken on the role of Google’s CEO from the departing Eric Schmidt, Google’s waning moon might start waxing again. The Googleplex, furthermore, would make an excellent Fairyland.
Don’t think that Puck would make a good CEO? Yeah, a lot of the other cast members say the same thing about Larry Page.
Larry Page takes the helm of Google (“Day to day adult supervision no longer needed”)
Larry Page, the man who originally conceptualized the Google search engine and made that concept come to life with his friend Sergey Brin’s help, had always intended to be the CEO of Google. Google had been his vision, after all, his grand idea. Venture capital firms investing in the fledgling company, however, had very different ideas. They didn’t want a couple of computer geeks in their mid-twenties to fritter away the millions of dollars they had just invested. Like a parent offering an ultimatum to a wily child, Sequoia Capital stated, “Hire a CEO… or else.” Larry Page and Brin suggested Steve Jobs for the Google post; when this didn’t work out, they hired Eric Schmidt instead.
Almost like a monarchy’s regent, Eric Schmidt ruled Google in Larry Page and Brin’s stead for the next ten years. When he handed the Google reins back over to Larry Page this year, he told everyone that Page was ready for the job. Specifically, when he left Google, he tweeted, “Day to day adult supervision no longer needed!” He deemed Larry Page ready to take over the business he started.
The big idea about Larry Page taking the helm of Google
Larry Page might be all grown up now, but that doesn’t mean he’s given up the fantastical-sized dreams that got Google started. Brin and Page warned the world just how big their dreams were when they named their new company after one of the largest numbers mankind has ever conceptualized. The two former Montessori students were never told they couldn’t build something that huge, and Google resembles nothing if not a Montessori classroom for adults.
Some of Page’s early suggestions at Google give an idea of just how big he’s willing to dream. There was the time he asked Eric Schmidt how many engineers Microsoft had. When Schmidt replied 25,000, Page countered by suggesting that Google should have a million. Another time, as Google was working to develop AdWords, Larry Page wanted the system to be so simple that all the customer would have to do was enter a credit card. One Googler pointed out to Page that not every country issued credit cards, so Page quickly responded – without trying to be funny – that maybe in these countries they could accept, say, goats as payment.
Occasionally, Larry Page and Brin were allowed to implement their nutty ideas, with disastrous results. For example, in 2001, they decided to get rid of all middle management positions, in an attempt to reduce bureaucratic layers. This didn’t work at all, and management positions returned less than a year later.
Other ideas seemed crazy, but turned out to be brilliant. In response to Googler Denise Griffin’s 2003 request to expand the customer service department, Larry Page dismissed the idea, stating that the whole concept of customer service was ridiculous anyway. Instead, he suggested that the customers should answer each others’ questions. This suggestion turned into Google Forums, and lo and behold, it’s worked beautifully for Google.
Google Books and Android were two other ideas that started with Larry Page. He started Books over the protests of others, who said it was impossible, because he wanted everyone on the planet to have access to mankind’s knowledge. Larry Page personally oversaw the purchase of Android because he realized Google would lose the mobile web race if it could only make apps for other people’s operating systems.
The Future of Google under Larry Page
Skeptics of Larry Page worry that his big dreams could get a little too big, and without Schmidt to supervise, Page’s puckishness could take Google down the wrong road. Supporters counter that, first of all, Larry Page isn’t 25 anymore. He’s a ripe old 38, and has more than held his own amongst the Valley’s cast of Fairyland characters for over ten years. Second of all, Larry Page has surrounded himself with smart people who, over the years, have learned how to help him keep his feet on the ground for long enough periods of time that he never completely floats away. They point out how well Android and YouTube have done under his leadership, as Larry Page has given the companies’ former CEOs room to work while still encouraging them to share his grand ambitions for the projects.
Dreamer though he is, Larry Page is also a computer scientist with a Ph.D. from Stanford, and the son of two other computer scientists. His dreams, ultimately, are data-driven. He likes to measure, re-measure, and like any good scientist, he’ll let go of a hypothesis once the evidence proves it to be a bad idea. Larry Page can admit when he’s wrong, and change direction right away. Such traits prevent him from being dictatorial, and keep morale up with the engineers, who know that if they provide the data to prove the boss wrong, he’ll listen.
In all, Google, which has been an interesting company to watch over the last ten years, will probably only become more interesting with Larry Page securely at the helm. Like a creeping Puck with a sly grin on his face, Larry Page won’t be afraid to take Google into a new direction if he decides it’s needed. Unlike Puck, he’ll also be quick to rectify any mistakes once he realizes he’s made them.