John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Google's Page Begins Major Reorg: Engineers, Not Managers, In Charge

Jonathan Rosenberg said his resignation from Google yesterday was precipitated by Larry Page’s return as CEO, but unrelated to Page’s effort to restore the urgency of innovation and nimbleness that was once the company’s hallmark.

And that may well be the case.

Certainly, Rosenberg has been crucial to Google’s success, so his exit has come as a shock to pretty much everyone to whom I’ve spoken.

That said, its timing seems quite convenient, particularly in relationship to what looks very much like a significant reorg that is currently underway at Google, said sources familiar with the situation.

Note first that Rosenberg’s replacement wasn’t immediately named and it’s not clear whether Page even feels one is needed.

But sources close to the company tell me it is likely to be much more than just Rosenberg’s departure.

The main theme that seems to be emerging: An elimination of Google’s more centralized functional structure–where Rosenberg was one of several manager kingpins–to one in which the individual business units and their engineers, such as its most independent Android division, rule more autonomously.

Reimagined like this, Google would become an ambidextrous organization with more powerful unit line execs, mostly engineers, doing what needs to be done to succeed, less burdened by the need to vet every little effort through various managers of Google’s powerful operating committee.

And that might mean fewer of those centralized execs–which raises the question of which general manager is next to go, whether on their own volition or not.

There is much speculation within Google about this, and it will surely increase now with the departure of Rosenberg.

The up and down fate of certain execs will be important signs of what’s coming, especially that of Chief Business Officer Nikesh Arora, Business Operations SVP Shona Brown and David Drummond, SVP of corporate development and chief legal officer.

So too the execs running business units at Google. Even now, for example, YouTube operates somewhat independently from the main part of Google. The question is, can such an engineering-driven structure be applied to local, social, commerce and more?

The goal, of course, is laudable–for Google to have significantly less bureaucracy and a more consistent stream of innovation.

But is this a good idea?

Looking at the company’s Android unit, the answer would appear to be a resounding yes. Under Andy Rubin, the Android team has developed its own structure and processes and it’s excelling in the market. Google’s role here is more nurturing parent than anything else. In other words, it’s supporting innovation, not micromanaging it.

That jibes well with Page’s push to whittle down Google’s manager bureaucracy, eliminate politicking and rekindle its start-up spirit.

And it also offers the added benefit of making him the centerpoint of the entire company.

Because make no mistake, these autonomous divisions under discussion would all have one thing in common: Larry Page.

In other words: He’s the CEO, functionary!

In essence, he would be their Lord High Engineer (and Executioner, in all senses) and their connection to the rest of the organization.

Which puts him in a very Steve Jobsian position, in which he’s the company’s one true arbiter.

That’s worked out well for Apple, but its culture is very different from Google’s. And Page and Jobs are as dissimilar as they come.

That said, if Page’s vision of a new, ambidextrous Google fosters the same sort of incremental and radical innovations we’ve seen come out of Apple in the past decade, that would probably be a good change.

Because change is just what Google so needs–and it seems it has begun.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus