Larry Page disrupts Google and himself with Alphabet

Steve Jobs once told Larry Page that he and Google were doing too much stuff. And for awhile, it seemed Page, in his early days back in the role as CEO of Google, was endlessly working on reshaping Google into “elegant” corporate structures to streamline operations.

But Page’s thinking about Jobs’ advice changed over the year, as he said in an on-stage interview last summer with Vinod Khosla (minute 25:15):

I always thought it was kind of stupid if you have this big company, and you can only do, like, five things.

I think it’s also not very good for the employees. Because then you have, like, 30,000 employees and they’re all doing the same thing, which isn’t very exciting. For them.

With news this week of the creation of a new umbrella corporation called Alphabet, as Matt O’Brien wrote, Page is sealing his reputation as the most unusual, ambitious American CEO.

“Companies try to do very adjacent things,” he said at that onstage interview. “If you did something less related, you can do more things.”

It appears that with Alphabet, Page is carrying out that vision. True, as Harry McCracken of Fast Company points out, when Page gave the job of essentially running Google day-to-day to Sundar Pichai, he was already detaching to focus on his bigger mission.

But Page needed to do something that marked the shift for the entire operation of more than 50,000 employees, and importantly, himself. I’m reminded of how prescient it was when Jobs switched from Apple Computer to Apple Inc. That change signaled that was apparent for awhile – Apple was more than a traditional hardware firm.


Page could have pulled off much of this without introducing a new corporate moniker or turning Google into (my fingers still have trouble typing these words) a wholly owned subsidiary. But as he reminded us in his blog post, Google went public in 2004 with the declaration, “Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one.” It’s in the company’s nature to do deeply idiosyncratic things that sound at first blush like they might be a prank or a mistake.

The news marks a new chapter for Page, who was made CEO again of the search giant in 2011. His main mission now isn’t to keep search advertising revenue flowing but to create the future, which he has always said he wanted to do, as I wrote last year:

For Page, the “bigger picture” is as big as it gets, nothing less than some of humanity’s biggest challenges, such as battling disease, giving poorer parts of the world access to the Internet and reducing automobile deaths.

If Page succeeds, he will do something few other tech leaders have been able to do – make sure that new ideas can flourish and disrupt industries rather than get lost in the success of his main enterprise.

Ken Auletta of the New Yorker put it this way:

The one theory that I think is closest to the truth is that Larry Page suffered from Sergey Brin envy. Page had turned into what he had always admonished Googlers not to become: a bureaucrat. He was comfortable, and that made him uncomfortable.

Above: Larry Page. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)



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