Larry Page and Sergey Brin are to step down from the day-to-day running of Alphabet, the holding they created to ensure the diversification of their investment interests into long-term projects such as self-drivingvehicles, research into prolonginghuman life, home automation, artificial intelligence, intelligent cities, internet access via fiberor balloons, using drones for logistics or wind turbines, among others.
I briefly had the opportunity to meet Larry and Sergey back in 2003, when we invited them to IE Business School in Madrid to receive an MBA Honoris Causa (in the image). They were young, happy, and looked extremely excited about the perspectives of the empire they were being able to create: making all sorts of plans for the future, and apparently, looking forward to change the world. They were famous back then (our Dean back then had met Larry previously in the Davos meeting, no less), but only within certain circles. Now, less than two decades later, we are basically talking about two superstar multi-billionaires who launched their project more than two decades ago, who now have some gray hair, and who have had enough of dedicating themselves to something they soon discovered they never liked in the first place: managing a business. Now, they simply want to move on and do other things. Which is why they have put the man who has run Google profitably over the last few years — albeit at the expense of its highly individual business culture — in charge, but that’s another matter. From now on, with its co-founders in voluntary retirement, it is not going to be the same company Page and Brin started: certainly not the same culture or philosophy. The focus from now on is profit, which will mean making projects profitable within a reasonable time frame, or closing them down.
What does “a reasonable time frame” mean for Alphabet’s amazingly ambitious projects? Alphabet was always about investing (placing bets) in companies in their alpha stage, ranging from autonomous driving to the study of the causes of death, the redesign of cities to make them intelligent or the sensorization of the home. These companies are designed to be enormously profitable, but not necessarily today or tomorrow: when they are capable of solving some aspects of the amazingly complex challenges that led their founders to create them in the first place. These are the sort of projects Larry and Sergey love, betting on technical insights to solve amazingly complex issues no one has ever been able to tackle before, not the typical chores involved with managing a large company. You don’t become a computer scientist and even try to get your Ph.D. on that same field to end up managing a large companies… in order to do that, you typically get a Management degree, which is a totally different thing requiring a totally different set of skills and knowledge. Computer scientists don’t necessarily make good business managers, and they don’t necessarily enjoy doing so.
Now, the appointment of Sundar Pichai, until now CEO of Google, as future CEO of Alphabet, suggests they want the latter to become a conventional company as well: make sure they can relax, keep their investments under control… and enjoy life.
About the Author
This article was written by Enrique Dans, professor of Innovation at IE Business School and blogger at enriquedans.com.