Eric Schmidt’s next act

By Felix Salmon
January 21, 2011
book when it comes to Google, has a must-read take on what exactly is going on with Eric Schmidt.

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Ken Auletta, who literally wrote the book when it comes to Google, has a must-read take on what exactly is going on with Eric Schmidt, and goes out on a limb by saying that his tenure in the weird job of non-CEO executive chairman will last just one year before Schmidt leaves to “do something else.” (This fits with reports that Schmidt is planning to sell a chunk of Google stock.)

The era of Larry Page, CEO, is about to begin: it’s clearly what Page wants, but it’s also something that he’s temperamentally ill-suited to:

Larry Page, who read books on business as a young man, who at age twelve read a biography of Nikola Tesla and took away the lesson that it was not enough to be a brilliant scientist if you were not also a good businessman who controlled your inventions, had more aptitude for management than Sergey Brin. It was always assumed that one day Page would be C.E.O. Now that he is about to be, he will have to change. He is a very private man, who often in meetings looks down at his hand-held Android device, who is not a comfortable public speaker, who hates to have a regimented schedule, who thinks it is an inefficient use of his time to invest too much of it in meetings with journalists or analysts or governments. As C.E.O., the private man will have to become more public.

Looked at in this light, Schmidt’s year as executive chairman is essentially a way of softening the blow of being CEO: Schmidt will take on a lot of the responsibilities which Page is ill-suited to, at least for a while, giving Page some time to get his management ducks in a row before facing a lot of public music.

Meanwhile, YouGov BrandIndex sends over this chart, showing that the perceptions gap between Facebook and Google has never been narrower:

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My suspicion is that it’s Sergei, rather than Larry, who’s going to be mostly responsible for keeping Google’s score as high as possible here, and tending the don’t-be-evil flame. He’s also going to be in charge of various undisclosed moves out of Google’s core advertising business, while Larry tries to bring more focus and drive to what has become a very large bureaucracy.

As for Eric, as Auletta says, he’s “fifty-five, a billionaire, a man comfortable in his own skin.” The option space available to him is enormous. But after spending his entire professional life working for other people, I suspect he’ll want to be the owner or founder of whatever he does next.

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