Google has a new CEO as co-founder Larry Page steps up to the plate. Eric Schmidt hangs around as Chairman to deal with strategy and government relations and the big picture. Page's other half Sergey Brin will focus on products. And that's where things are going to be interesting.
In this obviously staged photo, Page is clearly in the driver's seat.
On the surface, this role change looks pretty harmless. Roles are changing a bit, but the odd collaboration trio of Page, Schmidt and Brin will remain intact (full story, earnings, Schmidt blog, Techmeme). However, there are challenges ahead. Here's a look at some of the larger ones that Page will have to deal with.
Thinking quarterly. A CEO's success is measured three months at a time. Google hasn't had to worry about that too much since the search giant makes gobs of cash---at least enough to invest heavily in data centers, big buildings in New York City and bonuses to keep people. Page was largely insulated from that song and dance. As CEO, it's distraction city. Page will have to talk to media, government types and Wall Street analysts. That's a bit different than "the spend 10 percent of your time motif Google has going on."
Putting doubts to rest. Schmidt inadvertently put a lot of pressure on Page. On an earnings conference call, Schmidt said:
I want to say very clearly that I believe Larry is ready. He has been working on this area for a long time. His ideas are very interesting and clever, and it is time for him to have a shot at running this and doing it, and I'm sure he will do a fantastic job. It is interesting that a decade goes by very fast when you work in a partnership as wonderful as this has been, and I'm quite sure that this partnership will continue. We are friends. We are coworkers. We are computer scientists. We have a common vision. I don't anticipate any material change in any of our strategies or anything. We tend to agree on pretty much everything. But I do believe that as a result of this, we will operate and execute the business even better.
The big question here is whether Page is ready to be CEO. We've seen this founder-CEO thing before. Apple CEO Steve Jobs is a great example of success. Former Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang is an example of a management debacle. Page will have to prove he is ready. Rest assured questions will be raised the second Google hiccups.
Schmidt's shadow. Adding to this pressure on Page is the fact that Schmidt is still there. In Google's history, Schmidt was the grown-up manager to the two co-founders/visionaries. However, Page is like a CEO who still lives at home. Schmidt's shadow remains. It would almost be easier if Schmidt weren't hovering.
Page's presence. Page may have been involved in the day-to-day operations, but he hasn't really had the big stage to himself. How will Page carry a keynote? Schmidt had a veteran's view and a lot of presence based on experience. Page's persona is a work in progress.
Finding Google's next act. Schmidt alluded to Page's "clever" ideas. Page will have to deliver a few of those. Why? Google's biggest threat may be Facebook. Facebook could be an ad threat and be as meaningful to the Web ecosystem as Google. Meanwhile, Google hasn't quite figured out that social strategy. Page's job will be to answer Facebook and find Google's second act. Brin noted that Google has just tapped 1 percent of what social search can be. Page added:
If you think about the next five years of what your life will be like online socially and what kind of things the tools will be able to do, we are only at the very, very early stages of that, and I'm incredibly excited about the possibilities.