Google wins again
Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Eric Schmidt on keeping the culture alive at Fortune’s No. 1 Best Company to Work For – and how they all promised to stay at Google for 20 years.
How do you maintain Google’s culture as the company gets bigger and bigger?
Page: I think as we get bigger, the way we’re going to try to maintain our culture is to make sure we have the right-sized groups. I just visited our new office in the Seattle area. It really felt like Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) felt when we were a couple hundred people. There is sort of a natural size for human organizations, and I think to the extent we’re able to create groups that are those sizes, we can retain a lot of that culture.
Brin: I actually don’t think keeping the culture is a goal. I think improving the culture is. We shouldn’t be, like, looking back to our golden years and saying, “Oh, I wish it was the same.”
So as you grow, how do you Google-ize the companies you acquire?
Page: We don’t. For example, YouTube has remained largely a division. They’re in San Bruno [north of the main campus in Mountain View, Calif.] and have their own culture, which is different and cool.
Your perks are famous, but they’re not permanent. You recently killed the $5,000 hybrid-car subsidy, for example, and replaced it with a three-tiered incentive that promotes fuel efficiency. Why?
Brin: The goal behind the original policy was that we wanted to encourage cleaner technologies. But by encourage, I don’t mean we wanted to subsidize them forever.
By any measure, Google treats employees incredibly well. Is it possible to treat them too well?
Page: My grandfather worked in the auto plants in Flint, Mich. He was an assembly-line worker. During the sit-down strikes he used to carry this long iron pipe with a big chunk of lead on the end when he walked to work.
Schmidt: For what reason?
Page: To protect himself from the company. I still have the hammer. That’s two generations ago, and we’ve come a long way. I don’t think any of our employees have to carry such weapons to work. At least I hope they don’t. But that’s a big change in two generations. It’s common sense: Happy people are more productive.
Will you all work at Google for the rest of your careers?
Schmidt: We agreed to work together for how long, gentlemen?
Brin: Twenty years.
Really? When did you make that agreement?
Schmidt: Two years, seven months, and four days ago. But who’s counting? Actually, we agreed the month before we went public that we would work together for 20 years. I will be 69, and according to Google I’m going to live to 84, so I should be fine.
Is it possible for a successful company like Google to adequately prepare for the moment when it could suffer a major hiccup? Post your thoughts on the Go West blog.