Going all the way back to the late 90’s when Google was still an up and coming startup, co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were more than content to run their company themselves. Their exuberance, however, was tempered by a venture capital firm who insisted that the two young Stanford PhD candidates hire a seasoned CEO with Silicon Valley experience. And while the very notion now seems absurd, Page and Brin, at one point in time, were only willing to hand over the CEO reigns to one person.
One afternoon about 12 years ago, Larry Page and Sergey Brin gave John Doerr a call. A few months earlier, the Google cofounders had accepted $12.5 million from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Doerr’s venture-capital firm, as well as an equal amount from Sequoia Capital. When they took the cash, they agreed that they would hire an outsider to replace Page as CEO, a common strategy to provide “adult supervision” to inexperienced founders. But now they were reneging. “They said, ‘We’ve changed our mind. We think we can run the company between the two of us,’” Doerr recalls.
Doerr’s first instinct was to immediately sell his shares, but he held off. He made Page and Brin an offer: He would set up meetings for them with the most brilliant CEOs in Silicon Valley, so they could get a better sense of what the job entailed. “After that,” he told them, “if you think we should do a search, we will. And if you don’t want to, then I’ll make a decision about that.” Page and Brin took a Magical Mystery Tour of high tech royalty: Apple’s Steve Jobs, Intel’s Andy Grove, Intuit’s Scott Cook, Amazon .com’s Jeff Bezos, and others. Then they came back to Doerr.
“We agree with you,” they told him; they were ready to hire a CEO. But they would only consider one person: Steve Jobs.
Jobs of course never accepted, nor was he offered, a position as Google CEO. Famously, Google hitched their wagon to Eric Schmidt who had previously served as the CTO for Sun and CEO of Novell. Schmidt became Google’s acting CEO in 2001 and helped transform Google from a feisty search-centric startup to one of the premier technology companies on the planet, albeit one whose primary revenue is still derived from search advertising.
In early January Google announced that Eric Schmidt would step down in April 2011 as company CEO and hand control over to Larry Page. In just a few weeks, Schmidt will take on his new role as Google Executive Chairman where he will focus on business partnerships, government outreach, and other technological initiatives.
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