Order In the Plex Now

Kremlinology

Monday, April 11th, 2011

In 1999, when Google had its first press conference—to announce its $25 million VC financing and generally introduce itself to the world as a company– Larry and Sergey prepared some slides. One slide focused on the Google team. But it did not provide the full names of Google’s early brainiacs. They were identified by first name only.

One might assume that in 2011, now that Google is a big public corporation, that there would be more transparency. But last week—or sometime in the recent past—Google had one of the biggest management shifts in its history and the news came via a leak to the Los Angeles Times. That was Thursday, and while Google officially confirmed that something like that shift took place, we have yet to get a statement or a blog item that actually explains what happened, why, and what it may mean.

The re-org does confirm what we already know about Larry. He’s already making big changes in his super-energized stint as CEO, and he doesn’t care much about keeping the press (and by extension, Google’s shareholders) informed about what he’s up to.

Now for the shift. Basically, Larry has organized Google by product category, with a senior vice president in charge of each group The actual personnel aren’t surprising—if you read IN THE PLEX you would know that Susan Wojcicki, Salar Kamanager, Alan Eustace, Jeff Huber and Sundar Pichai are powerful and dynamic heads of their divisions. You’d also know that Vic Gundotra has risen to a strong position within the company and has been heading Google’s crucial efforts in the social space. (With Bradley Horowitz as a strong partner in those efforts.)

But there are a couple of surprises. Eustace (who was already a Senior VP) has moved from head of engineering to search, and I’m not sure whether this means anything to Udi Manber, who formerly held the role of search czar, but is not a senior VP. And Huber’s domain now apparently extends to the local-geo area. When Marissa Mayer moved out of her search products world and into geo, Google made a big deal of that. It would be nice to see this clarified.

For those who need more evidence that pursuing a social strategy is high on the stack, here it is—recognition of social products as a full division, even though it’s a work in progress. Furthering this is another alleged innovation by Larry, of tying a quarter of next years bonus for every Google employee to its success in social. (I say alleged because, once again, this news was leaked out to the press, and on this one Google wouldn’t confirm or deny. But the non-denial seems to be a stealth confirmation.)

Surely, there’s a lot that begs explaining in this, and I really hope that someone—ideally, Larry Page—explains the philosophy behind the shuffling and where the non-product areas fit into the organization. How about a blog item from the CEO? It’s to everyone’s benefit to know where people stand at Google. The Kremlinology of determining the company’s priorities and structures from leaked press items is a destructive process.

Another point. There’s been a lot written about Google’s brain drain, and employee retention is indeed a big issue. But the composition of this list says a lot about Google’s stability. Of the six executives involved in this product cabal, two of them were among Google’s first tiny group of employees (Wojcicki, Kamanger), and almost all the others arrived pre-IPO. (That was in 2004.) The most recent arrival is Gundotra, the rare Google executive who thrived after leaving a high position at Microsoft. And he’s been at Google for five years. Another executive who was around early enough to be identified only by first name in that 1999 slide is, Urs Höltzle, whose memo a year ago urging a focus on social was the spur of its current push (It was dubbed the Urs-quake.) He’s still the top guy in infrastructure.

Larry has made all his key executives commit to several years of intense work, so presumably all of the people in the announcement. You have to figure that his earliest employees are now so fantastically wealthy that if they didn’t believe in what he was doing they would not reenlist: they’d go off to start other companies, devote themselves to philanthropy, or just veg out in luxury. Instead, they’re reenergized members of Team Larry.

3 Comments

  • This reminds me of a quote from Mr. Page:

    “We don’t generally talk about our strategy … because it’s strategic.”

    (Time Magazine, 2006 http://j.mp/hdX5ie)

  • One Kremlinologically plausible explanation for why Mayer wasn’t elevated to SVP is perhaps her unwillingness to commit to more years at Google.

  • Your publicity tour looks grueling.

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