Forget about Google succession story

Larry Page just needed a promotion


Google released this photo of Eric Schmidt, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, on the day it announced that Page will replace Schmidt as the company's CEO. It said the photo was taken earlier Thursday, with the men sitting in one of Google's self-driving cars.

It's a little disturbing to see perennially nice guy and effective tech-company manager Eric Schmidt "step aside" as CEO of Google, but it's not entirely clear that's what he's doing.

He's promoting Google co-founder Larry Page to CEO and becoming "executive chairman," a title so unusual it's not clear what it actually means.

It's probably some mix of Chairman -- who would normally lead the board of directors, pass on broad directives to the CEO and be the public face of the company to anyone needing a public face -- -- and Chief Executive -- who would make the day-to-day decisions about running the company.

Organizationally it looks more like a half-step in toward the CEO's job from that of Chairman, as opposed to "Chairman Emeritus," which is half-step between Chairman and retirement.

Schmidt said he will spend his time "focusing on relations with customers, partners and government, "

which is what a chairman normally does when not wining and dining the board, and what CEOs do when they're either Chairman and CEO, or when they have effective COOs and senior executives they can trust with the day-to-day.

Despite a reputation in the early 2000s for doing things in "unconventional" ways there's no real reason to think Page will try to make major changes in direction, destabilize the company, or become the kind of self-contradicting borderline sociopath Mark "Privacy Peddler" Zuckerberg appears to be.

Given 10 years of management tutelage under Schmidt, Page may be much more prepared to lead a major company than people assume.

(The caveat is that he's still a comparative child of 37, an age by which most people believe they've achieved their emotional and intellectual maturity, but realize they were wrong after achieving real maturity 47. And 57. And 67.

My personal rule of thumb (for which I'm surprised to find actual evidence) is that, when you can choose, surgeons, pilots and most others who take your life in their hands should be in their early 50s -- old enough to have seen every emergency but not old enough for physical ailments to keep them from doing anything about it.)

Schmidt evidently trusts Page to run Google's day-to-day, but isn't ready to go play golf or sip capuccino with Steve Jobs 24-7 just yet.

Which probably means, given that the titles are changing but not the people, that not much will change at Google, at least from the outside.

I could be wrong.

Reaching into ancient history for untenable comparisons about succession, Caligula was trained from a child to take over as emperor from his father Germanicus, one of the most respected, successful emperors and administrators of his era. Despite the training -- far longer than Page has had at Google -- Caligula was...not.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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