Rumors Swirl About Google CEO Exit
The day I become a billionaire is the day I vanish and no one sees me again unless I invite them to my ridiculously cool house. Pretend billionaires have that luxury, but it is likely the mentality that creates billionaires is the same mentality that keeps them working no matter how rich they become.
Not long after it became apparent Bill Gates wasn’t really retiring but actually setting up a new company, speculation is growing about Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s next move. That he has a next move beyond Google may be surprising to some, perhaps even to Schmidt himself, but when doors suddenly swing wide it is hard to resist going through.
The first clue is that Schmidt essentially used the word “never” in response to questions about his interest in a political career. As he openly stumped for Barack Obama along the political trail during the election, and as a cabinet position seemed inevitable, the words he actually used were “hell” and “no.” Perhaps because of his proximity to Obama, one couldn’t help but be jettisoned to an earlier time when the would-be President Elect told fans he wouldn’t be running for the highest office in the land.
Indeed one should never say never. Doing so is playing the oldest sales trick in the book on oneself: take away an option and suddenly that option is ever so more attractive. Fear of lost opportunity, especially among the ambitious who become billionaire CEOs and presidents of powerful nations—that carpe diem attitude that got them to where they are to begin with—is a much stronger motivator than ambition, power, or money, especially once ambition, power, and money have already been realized.
The what-next question, then, looms fairly heavy above Schmidt’s head. Does one stay in the saddle atop the behemoth one helped create, or does one stare down different beasts to pad one’s human legacy? And what if the behemoth has already reached its peak?
The writer for the TMT Analyst notes how Schmidt has been more interested lately in discussing bailouts and the economy than Google’s own loss of market value, and predicts Schmidt will leave Mountain View for Washington now that “his job is done” at Google. Going out on a high note—the note that in under a decade the company he headed became one of the richest and most influential companies in the world—could seem especially attractive.
Henry Blodget at Silicon Alley Insider picked up on what one commentator described as “rank speculation,” and added speculation of his own. Schmidt seems especially interested in solving the world’s energy crisis and perhaps has become bored with the limitations of Google in a world-saving capacity—perhaps he is dreading how much “less fun” it will be to cut jobs and grow from $20 billion annually to $50 billion. Saving the world seems not just more pressing and more fun, but also presents another impossible challenge just perfect for a bored, idealistic billionaire to take on.
There’s very little to back any of that up of course—perhaps just some vicarious if-I-were-Schmidt-type thinking—and there is more evidence to the contrary. Namely, there is the so-called “20-year pact” between Schmidt and cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Right before Google’s IPO, the three made a pact—signed in ink or blood or by handshake?—that they would work together at Google for 20 years following the public offering, which means they’ve got about 15 years and some change to go.
Details of said pact are few. Getting Google to where it is now would have been hard to envision five years ago—there is a point where confidence crosses the line and moves square into delusions of grandeur. Could there be a billionaire boredom clause? A top-of-the-world-what-do-I-do-now clause? Would Schmidt have to remain CEO to fulfill that pact or could he stay on the board, or, just for old times, reconnect with his inner engineer and tweak algorithms? Maybe the three of them could go on working together on elaborate Lego block designs. Maybe they all begin a spiritual quest by demoting themselves to the janitorial staff at the Googleplex with some vague adherence to humility and servitude.
Who knows? But it’s hard to imagine there’s not some kind of exit hatch.