January 21, 2011, 7:39 AM — Today's announcement that Google co-founder Larry Page would replace Eric Schmidt as the company's CEO was a surprise, but maybe it shouldn't have been. While the company's earnings are still stellar, Schmidt has made a series of embarrassing statements and the company has had some very public failures.
But is it really the best idea to turn over the day-to-day operations of one of the world's biggest and most important companies to the guy who conceived of it in his dorm room at Stanford University? There's no doubt that Larry Page is a genius with technology, but does he have the discipline and know-how to keep a 24,000-employee company, one with its fingers in dozens of different businesses, not only running but advancing? It's that question that makes this management shuffle a very high-stakes gamble.
In the world of startups, it's generally acknowledged that the founders of companies - especially those founders who are most involved in the technical side of a product - aren't usually the best people to lead those companies over the long run. Once a company hits a critical mass, investors often insist on bringing in what they call "adult supervision" - an experienced businessperson to take day-to-day control as CEO.
And that pattern played out in the early days of Google. Page and co-founder Sergey Brin acted as co-presidents in the search engine's early days, from 1998 until 2001. Then they hired Schmidt as CEO. Schmidt had been CEO of Novell and had a string of management positions in other technology firms, including Sun Microsystems and Xerox.
Schmidt announced today's switch in this Twitter feed by saying: "Day-to-day adult supervision no longer needed!" I may be wrong, but it seems to me there's a tone in those 46 characters. To me, it sounds like Schmidt may not be entirely convinced that "the kids" are ready to take over. (Schmidt won't be leaving Google; he'll continue as executive chairman and focus on lobbying and deals with external partners.)
The Case for Change
But I think you can make a strong case for the need for new leadership at Google. Perhaps the biggest problem was Schmidt's recent penchant for making statements that just reinforced the creepy feeling many people have about how much Google knows about us.