Two articles appeared today that reflect on the first year of Larry Page’s return to the CEO role at Google. Bloomberg’s Brad Stone does a Q&A with Page in which he discusses the larger competitive challenges Google faces and some of his management philosophy. The other piece is from Wired writer Steven Levy and is a bit of a counterpoint to the mostly upbeat Bloomberg story.
Stone declines to query Page about privacy, antitrust and Google’s myriad problems with regulators and governments around the world. In his answers about a range of issues, Page is confident and seemingly reflective. However his responses suggest Page still regards Google as the cool tech company that was generally beloved by all but its competitors.
Levy on the other hand points out the ways in which that image no longer applies. While Levy celebrates Page’s “focus” and “impatience,” he also identifies Google’s very real legal and “political” vulnerabilities today:
Google was once widely viewed as a feisty startup, an underdog that was on the side of the people; now people increasingly see it as a mighty and distant power that knows too much about them.
This shift in perception is dangerous to Google. It provides cover to politicians and regulators (many of whom are being lobbied furiously by Google’s competitors) who want to hobble a company that seems to have a troubling amount of power. The constant scrutiny of the DOJ and the FTC have already hurt Google considerably: when considering acquisitions, there’s not only the possibility that government will block the move — there’s the certainty that the long approval process will lower the value of the purchase.
One of the more interesting exchanges in the Brad Stone article is the discussion of Steve Jobs’ rage against Google for “stealing” the look and feel of Android. Page argues that it was all an act:
I think the Android differences were actually for show . . . I think that served their interests. For a lot of companies, it’s useful for them to feel like they have an obvious competitor and to rally around that. I personally believe that it’s better to shoot higher. You don’t want to be looking at your competitors. You want to be looking at what’s possible and how to make the world better.
This is a curious response and probably inaccurate given the myriad other accounts of Jobs’ anger toward Google (he ousted Eric Schmidt from the Apple board, for example). It’s unclear whether Page’s remarks are spin, a rationalization or whether Page genuinely believes what he’s saying.
And just as Jobs seemed to be fixated on Android, Page seems equally fixated on Facebook. Though he says, “You don’t want to be looking at your competitors” he takes a couple of shots at Facebook in the Bloomberg Story:
I mean, our friends at Facebook have imported many, many, many Gmail addresses and exported zero addresses. And they claim that users don’t own that data, which is a totally specious claim. It’s completely unreasonable.
Both articles suggest that Page is doing well from an internal, management perspective and generally well regarded as a CEO. He’s even characterized as “charming.”
One potential antidote to some of the image problems that Levy identifies is a more public Page. Perhaps he just needs to bring a little of that personal charm more out in the open. The Bloomberg article may signal that he’s going to start doing so.
Postscript: A Google spokesperson emphasized to me that the Bloomberg/BusinessWeek article is an “excerpt” from a “forthcoming magazine story,” which presumably will explore antitrust and privacy issues — major issues for Google today — in some depth.