Larry Page Re-Shapes the Culture He Created

Google LogoLarry Page hates meetings, avoids e-mail, is impatient with executive disputes, is willing to drop projects he believes are questionable and favors bathroom breaks. Basically, if you score some face time with Google’s co-founder, you get 50 minutes max so he can do what he needs to do before his next sit-down.

This is all from a New York Times look at how Google’s co-founder is going about the business of preparing the behemoth for the next phase of its life. Among the issues he’s facing:

(Google) is losing employees to the new, hotter start-ups, and is being pushed around by government regulators and competitors like Facebook, Apple and Amazon, which are all vying for people’s online time.

His goal, Page says, is to increase the company’s “velocity and execution.” But there’s a price to pay.

Naysayers fret that in his rush to refocus the company, and especially in ending projects, he risks squelching Google’s trademark innovation, which bubbles up when engineers are given the time to experiment. “He’s going to lose some people at the end of the day,” said one employee who, like others, agreed to speak only anonymously because the company bars them from talking to the press without prior approval.

Today, Google has more than 30,000 employees. That’s a bigger  population than a lot of small towns and even if you have the near dictatorial powers of a modern CEO, getting everyone to work as effectively as possible is no small challenge. What’s interesting here is that Page has moved beyond Google’s veneer of naiveté (“Do no evil, but don’t annoy less-than-open governments). The fact he’s willing to make decisions that might go against the grain of Google’s roots shows he understands that the personality of companies change as they grow. Whether ratcheting back on innovation in the trenches will rob Google of future product successes remains to be seen. Remember, Google Maps, Gmail, Google Docs, Google Earth and Google Translate all began as side projects undertaken on the initiative of Googlers themselves.

Personally, I think Google will decline at some point, just as IBM and Microsoft faded from  being the suns around which technology orbited, America Online (remember that?) slid off the top of online communications, and broadcast television networks ceased to matter very much. What no one knows is how long that will take to happen. Google could be on the cusp of middle age or maybe the fact it’s 15 years old means it’s got a whole life ahead of it. If that’s the case, Google the adolescent retains a whole lot of kick ass potential.

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