Larry Page as CEO: Steve Jobs or Jerry Yang?
Google co-founder Larry Page reclaims his role as CEO today, a decade after reluctantly handing off that job to Eric Schmidt. Is he CEO material?
The company’s leadership believes he is. And, thinking about this pragmatically, who better than the person who first conceived of a company to steward its growth? That certainly proved true at Apple. Steve Jobs’s appointment as CEO sparked the company’s ascendancy. On the other hand, Jerry Yang’s stint as CEO of Yahoo was followed by a string of strategic missteps and blunders that precipitated a nasty downward spiral and ultimately his ouster.
So what will it be for Page: renaissance or train wreck?
The answer to that question hinges, in part, on Page’s ability to serve as the human face of Google, something he’s been loathe to do–or incapable of doing–in the past. Say what you will about Schmidt and his penchant for asinine soundbytes, he’s got gravitas and a polished persona. Page, by most accounts, does not.
“[Page] is a very private man, who often in meetings looks down at his hand-held Android device, who is not a comfortable public speaker, who hates to have a regimented schedule, who thinks it is an inefficient use of his time to invest too much of it in meetings with journalists or analysts or governments,” Ken Auletta wrote recently at The New Yorker. “As CEO, the private man will have to become more public. And he will have to rid himself of a proclivity most engineers have: they are really bad at things they can’t measure. Like fears about Google’s size, and privacy and copyright and how to deal with governments that are weak at measurement but rife with paranoia.”
Consider the video below, shot at the University of Michigan in 2009 where Page looks and, yes, sounds like he’d be more comfortable–and perhaps, better off–delivering the commencement address via hand-puppet.
How will he handle a press roundtable? A keynote? How will he articulate Google’s motives at a regulatory hearing?
“It’s not that Larry lacks social graces,” says Doug Edwards, Google’s first marketing director and author of “I’m Feeling Lucky: Confessions of Google Employee Number 59.” “He can be kind, thoughtful and genuinely charming. It’s just that maintaining that persona 24/7 is guaranteed to cut down on his productivity. Larry can process information very quickly and prefers to have a full hopper to feed his ravenous intellect. Social niceties only use a small part of his bandwidth, but by their nature, prevent him from using the rest. If he engages in small talk to be sociable, he also wants to be on his laptop doing real work at the same time, which defeats the purpose of making small talk. Most people would think he was being rude.”
Which is obviously a problem for Google’s new CEO. Rude doesn’t play well in media and, more importantly, in government, where Google is facing increasing regulatory pressures. Like it or not, social communications are a big part of Page’s new gig at Google, and if he doesn’t have the talent or temperament for them…well, there are challenges ahead.
There’s a reason why Kirk, not Spock, captained the Enterprise.