Google’s EIS at Wharton has one of the highest attendance rates in recent years, surpassing even Goldman Sachs and McKinsey. Students from all walks of life, who invested hundreds of hours interviewing for other industries, all showed up to listen to what Google had to say. This matters not just because recruiting season is in full swing, but because it attests to the company’s magical ability to attract talent. Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive Chairman, and Jonathan Rosenberg, former Senior Vice President of Products and current advisor to CEO Larry Page, joined Professor Adam Grant to shed some insight about the world’s leading tech company.
The duo recently published How Google Works, a treatise that Professor Grant called one of the few business books worth reading. One main area explored in the book involves effective recruitment, and Schmidt summarized the company’s strategy as “hiring generalists with passion and intensity”. Because the world is changing so quickly, there is no need to hire specialists. Instead, one should target people who are competent and interesting. Schmidt told the story of how he gave Sheryl Sandberg an offer without having an actual position for her – “don’t hire to the job, hire the actual person”.
Schmidt delivered eloquently in a calm and almost professorial demeanor while Rosenberg animated the audience as a great storyteller – an effectively complementary team. The two seem to be great friends, or at least have spent enough time together to exchange jokes and slight jabs. When asked about the biggest professional misstep he has taken, Schmidt mentioned WhatsApp and his failure to realize its potential as a networking platform. He further elaborated into the danger of underestimating the rate at which technology advances and the imperative need for a business strategy that can scale quickly and utilize these technologies.
Not surprisingly, many of the questions from the audience revolved around what Google thought to be the next new big thing. To start, the pair highlighted some internal initiatives, such as driverless cars (which Schmidt thinks will be ready in 10 years since the technology is mostly there and the regulatory challenges pose the biggest roadblock) and Project Balloon (which aims to provide 3G connectivity in remote areas that are otherwise untethered). Furthermore, they professed great confidence in the potential of medical devices in conjunction with mobile technology that would help people live better and be healthier.
Although Google dabbles in a bit of everything, they acquire the competition if they cannot grow sufficiently internally. YouTube was a $1.65B move, stemming from secret meetings at Denny’s, at a point when the video sharing site wasn’t even profitable. This move is part of a major industry trend of large technology firms buying up startups still bleeding money. When challenged about the viability of these acquisitions, Schmidt highlighted the opportunity cost as a key consideration. Often in the technology sector, the first mover has a huge advantage. Therefore – it is a good strategy to acquire ventures with good concepts or technologies, even if they are not profitable, in order to secure that competitive edge.
Many entrepreneurs dream of getting bought out by Google, ushering in a charming life at vacation homes off the coast of Italy. Well, that takes more than a business proposal and a fancy PowerPoint deck. Rosenberg firmly stated that the only way to get his attention is a short but powerful demo to ensure that there is a product and the founders have passion. So future tech billionaires, you’d better hurry!