Google shows off its bench

The vision of Larry Page and Sergey Brin still holds. In a word, search. In another word, find. Maybe its cloud will bring a third word, host, but so far it is mainly a set of services built around that one word, search, again.

Time cover with Google co-founders and CEO, February 2008
Maybe it has nothing with the continuing rumors over Steve Jobs' health, but Google seems to be making a special effort this week to show off its deep executive bench.

This week's OSCON show in Portland features talks from five Googlers, the headliner being open source programs manager Chris DeBona.

Ben Collins-Sussman, Leslie Hawthorn, Steve Souders, and Alex Martelli will also represent the Googleplex, but none are liable to draw a single groupie. (Or appear on the cover of Time, right.)

When I turned on CNBC for news about Google adding real-time ticker support there was an interview with a Googler, but again it was not with any of the top dogs.

This is actually a very good thing. A large, growing company wants to show that it has a deep bench and sending five speakers to OSCON helps show off the company's open source commitment.

But every great company is a dictatorship. We have found no model for building corporations beyond the entrepreneurial one. Even GE, the only original Dow Jones component to still be on the list, has in fact had a succession of absolute rulers leading it.

Google is no different. The vision of Larry Page and Sergey Brin still holds. In a word, search. In another word, find. Maybe its cloud will bring a third word, host, but so far it is mainly a set of services built around that one word, search, again.

And then there's that ultimate aspiration, Do No Evil. It doesn't appear in Google's corporate mission statement, but it's what most people think of when they consider the Google brand.

A clear, concise mission statement is no substitute for a firm hand on the tiller, however. Google likes to say it has three -- Brin, Larry Page, and CEO Eric Schmidt, which provides redundancy.

But if a truck hit Sergey or Larry tomorrow, a hole would open up in that cloud. A hole that would be very hard to fill.

Despite the trappings of democracy, like elections for public company directors, the best American businesses remain kingdoms. Your bench can be as deep as you want, but you still need a star to win the game.

It's good to be the King. It's also necessary to have one. True whether you're Apple, Google, Microsoft, or the shop around the corner.

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