Posted by: Rob Hof on May 28, 2009
Sometimes it’s the littlest things that reveal the most, and I had that experience today just watching Google cofounder Sergey Brin walk a couple of San Francisco city blocks.
For the second day in a row at Google’s I/O developer conference in San Francisco, Brin showed up (late) at a press briefing today, this time following the introduction of a very early version of Google Wave. It’s a new communications and collaboration service that got rave reviews from the large audience of developers, though it won’t be available to real people for several months. (I Twittered about it here, and you can get the full details on the Google blog and on Techmeme.)
Anyway, after the briefing, I ran into him and a Google PR person and chatted with them a few minutes while Brin tested out Google Latitude, the location application that came out a few weeks ago. I left the conference hall to get back to the office, glanced at email on my Treo, and then noticed he had left too, walking half a block ahead of me all by himself. I figured he was heading to Google’s San Francisco offices, which are two blocks from mine, so coincidentally I ended up following him for a couple of blocks.
Apologies to Sergey if this observation seems intrusive (seriously, I was just hoofing it back to the office!). But his wanderings struck me in a couple of ways that at least indirectly said something to me about Google and its management. …
One was that Brin had absolutely no handlers with him, no one telling him where he was scheduled to go next. I mean, here's a billionaire, a founder of perhaps the most famous and one of the most successful companies in the world, who presumably has way too many other important things to do. And yet he's just ambling along, just another young guy in San Francisco (with no socks, as far as I could tell) whom nobody seemed to recognize as a Somebody.
Maybe some will see this as a poor use of time by someone whose every move can also move billions of dollars' worth of Google's shares. I don't think so. I see so many corporate executives who seem to be always surrounded by handlers or (yes) the press. Somehow it was refreshing to see a corporate titan (a label Brin no doubt wouldn't apply to himself) get literally outside the usual corporate bubble.
The second thing that struck me was that he was still clearly testing out something on his phone, presumably Latitude. Surely he has hundreds or thousands of engineers who are already doing this, but he seemed to be taking the responsibility to check out the company's products himself, in the wild. In fact, he seemed truly absorbed in it. This also has to be a good thing, a
CEO president with an intense interest in his company's own products.
And then he turned down another street and I kept going to my office. OK, no doubt I'm reading way too much into a random walk down Third Street. After all, Google is hardly immune to arrogance and self-importance, and it certainly has made a number of missteps, such as an inability to make much money from YouTube and a seeming deaf ear to antitrust concerns. But watching Brin reinforced an impression I took away from some other developments, such as a flurry of new search and other features in recent weeks and left me thinking that Google's management hasn't quite reached that point where complacency sets in and sparks an inexorable decline for a company.