tv The David Rubenstein Show Peer to Peer Conversations PBS October 1, 2017 6:00pm-6:31pm PDT
what propelled you to google as the company you wanted to go to? i said, "who cares about a search engine?" i didn't think google was gonna be that successful. was it awkward to kind of come in and be the ceo when you're dealing with founders? it was an immediate click. we do have a dress code. you have a dress code? you have to wear something. okay. it seems as if the driverless car phenomenon is on its way. you've been in one of these cars? yes. and you feel safe? we're doing this to save lives. there's more than 32,000 people scheduled to die this year. the europeans seem to not like google as much as maybe americans do. have you resolve those issues with europe? woman: would you fix your tie please? well, people wouldn't recognize me if my tie was fixed, but okay. just leave it this way. all right. [♪] david: i don't consider myself a journalist.
and nobody else would consider myself a journalist. i began to take on the life of being an interviewer, even though i have a day job of running a private equity firm. how do you define leadership? what is it that makes somebody tick? david: when you joined google, google was a very small company. did you, in your wildest dreams, ever imagine it would become the second most valuable company in the entire world? i don't think any of us did. i certainly did not. when i met larry and sergey, they just seemed incredibly intelligent. we had this huge argument over something technical, and i hadn't had that good of an argument in a long time, and i thought, "i've got to work with these people." i wanted to join a company that was gonna stay in one building. today, of course, we are many buildings. so you were the ceo of novell, at the time that you were getting ready to go to google. what propelled you to pick google as the company you wanted to go to?
because you had many opportunities. well, i actually didn't interview anywhere else. i-- john doerr asked me to visit google. i said, "who cares about a search engine? it won't matter very much. who uses search engines?" but he said, "nevertheless, go visit with larry and sergey." and what they were doing was so interesting, and the quality of the people that they had recruited were so compelling that i just had to be there. so search engines were not that novel at the time because there were plenty of search engine companies right? so why did you think google had a search engine that was gonna change the world? well, i didn't particularly think google was gonna be that successful, but i thought the technology was unusually special. google had invented a different way of doing ranking, and all of the previous search engines had used ranking that was easily manipulated by, you know, business forces and so forth, but larry page had invented something, now known as pagerank, which is a different algorithm, a different way of doing search, and it had spread virally. first at stanford and then throughout the bay area, and it was all word of mouth.
and i thought, "what a great project." so google is a word that existed before, it kind of meant infinity, and it's spelled differently. did google intentionally spell it differently than the original word google? what happened was there was a number called ten to the 100th. and i'll spare you the details, but this is a very large number. ten to the 100th. and it was named by a russian mathematician, googol, g-o-o-g-o-l. and it was too hard to pronounce, and so sergey decided it should be called google. now, today the company is not called google anymore. it's called alphabet. so why did they pick google as the original name, and why did you change it to alphabet, in terms of the parent? well, google has always done unusual things. so after 15 years of being google, we had all of these other companies that were sort of proto-companies. they weren't real businesses and they didn'thave real ceos. we talked internally, at great length, about, "how do you get great companies founded?" and the answer is strong ceos, strong incentive programs,
strong boards of directors. there aren't other models. so how do we recreate that within the context of google? and that's what alphabet is. so alphabet is a holding company of companies, of which google is the best-known. so many technology companies that are well-known, let's say microsoft or apple or facebook are run-- the ceos initially are the founders. you had a different situation. you had two people who were, quote, "the founders," larry and sergey, but they wanted a ceo who had more experience, at least the venture investors did, was it awkward to kind of come in and be the ceo when you're dealing with founders who don't have the ceo title? well, in their case, they had been searching for somebody they could work with for 16 months. and what they would do is they would have each of the candidates do something with them for the weekend. so they go skiing with one of them, and they play sports with another one to see if they were compatible. and so when i met them, we all have similar backgrounds in the sense that we're computer scientists. but it was an immediate click.
and i always knew, based on what had happened with john sculley and steve jobs in the 1980s, it was their company, and my job was to make their company successful. when you were interviewed by them, was it a normal interview? well, what happened was i walked into their office, and it was a tiny office in this incredibly crowded building, which google still has, by the way. in this tiny little office they had lots of food, and they had my biography on the wall, and they proceeded to ask each and every question that was possible against the biography. and i'd never been so thoroughly questioned, and i had just gone to visit. and they came to a product that i was building at novell, and they said, "this is the stupidest product ever made," which i, of course, had to respond to. and you didn't think you were gonna get the job after they said that? or you thought you might? well, i didn't realize it was a job interview. okay. but as i left the building, which was curiously a building that i had had when i worked at sun, years earlier, to show you how history repeats itself,
i knew i would be back. so when you did come back, and it was a small company, i think 100, 200 employees when you joined, did you realize that advertising would be the medium through which you would actually make the company grow? no, and in fact i was quite convinced that the advertising approach that they had taken did not work at all. and when i became ceo i was very concerned that there was something wrong. and i actually asked them to audit the cash accounts to make people who were selling these ads, and what we learned was that these targeted ads worked incredibly well, even though they were these little text ads. and that discovery and then the subsequent algorithmic improvements, which allowed for auctions and so forth, which were done by impossibly young and creative engineers, who i sort of viewed as sort of experimenting with things, created what is today google. the culture at google was very unusual at the time. others have emulated it, but it's a culture of kind of do what you want a bit, wear what you want, sleep in the office if you want.
we do have a dress code. you have a dress code? you have to wear something. okay. we had problems where engineers would move in, and put cots on the floor. we would explain that you can do anything you want to at google, but you can't live here. you have to have a bed somewhere else. we famously encourage people to bring pets, right, and we would have lots of rules about the pets. we didn't have any rules about the people, but, you know, if your pet was over here, you had to keep the pet over here. so, what about the food? very unusual. you had free food for everybody. what was the purpose behind that? well, the comment was that the free food really changed everything, but the real reason we did food-- and of course many of these things were marketed as great fun, but there was a serious business behind them. we-- in the case of the food-- this was sergey's idea. families eat dinner together, and he wanted the company to be a family. and so if you had people have proper good food, breakfast, lunch and dinner,
they would literally work as teams. and it would-- they would work in whatever way made the most sense. larry and sergey invented something called 20 percent time. and the idea is that for each of the employees, especially the engineers, if they are interested in something they can spend 20 percent of their time on whatever they're interested in. oh, my god. how could you run a company that way? well, that allowed the engineers, who were sitting there at dinner, to have conversations about what do you think, what do you think? i'll give you another example. larry page was looking at our ads, just as they came out, and he-- he studied them, and he put a big sign on the wall, and he wrote, "these ads suck." and he-- "this one, and this one, and this one. and i was looking at this, and i said, "this is another stupid google thing, right? nothing is gonna happen." we have an ads team, we have a manager, we have a plan. so-- this was friday afternoon. i come in monday morning,