Google's Larry Page: Why This CEO Needs to Be a Techie
By Tony Kontzer
I have to admit, I was struck by the irony of Google's decision to have co-founder Larry Page return to the post he once held by replacing Eric Schmidt as CEO. Only days ago, in a post about Steve Jobs' pending leave of absence, I suggested that CIOs are best-advised to keep a low profile and let their CEOs be the ones who exude charisma.
And then, seemingly on cue, Google says it's transitioning from Schmidt, a very smart and articulate man who nonetheless is not what one would call a charisma machine, to Page, who by most accounts is seriously charisma-challenged.
Actually, Google may be supporting my original thesis. After all, since Google is a company driven almost entirely by technological innovation, in many ways its top job is nearly as much CIO as it is CEO. At most companies, the CEO knows less about technology than my mom, and that's fine. If your company is all about making engine components, for example, the CEO needs to be able to speak authoritatively about engine components, understand how to run an engine components business, and engender confidence throughout the engine component market's vast ecosystem. He or she does not, however, need to know a lick about the IT behind any of this. That's why there's a CIO--to let the CEO know what's needed on that front, and to make sure that the IT in question hums like a finely oiled--excuse the exceedingly obvious symbolism--engine component.
But for a company like Google, having a CEO who is intimate with technology is tantamount to directing the company in a logical and ultimately successful fashion. Schmidt has done that well for years now. The prevailing sentiment is that, amid speculation that its rapid growth had created a bureaucracy that was taking it away from its entrepreneurial roots, Google is making this move to get back to those roots.
Funny thing is, how many companies announce a CEO switch as they're planning for a huge hiring push, and on the heels of an impressive quarterly earnings report, to boot? It strikes me as a high-risk move for a company that's been charging ahead on all cylinders.
If you're intrigued by the numerous balls Google is juggling at the moment--the company also is preparing to pull the plug on some of its underwhelming products--you're not alone. But one thing seems clear to me: A company as colorful and beloved and powerful as Google, no matter how geeky it is at its core, still needs a charismatic leader. Yes, it should be someone with deep understanding of the technology. It also needs to be someone who's worthy of being the face of not just a company, but of a living, breathing culture, both inside and outside of Google's walls.
If Page is going to be the second coming of Jobs--only without the part about having to rescue his company from near ruin--then someone's going to have to help him exude the qualities implied by the "E" in his new, old title.
This is not the same Google that existed the last time YOU WERE THE BIG KAHUNA, Larry. The world is watching now. Time to break out the mojo.