Eric Schmidt stepped down from his role as Google CEO on a high note.He is loved by employees, the stock has performed spectacularly under his watch (except for the last year or so), and he managed to keep a lot of Google’s unique culture while growing from several hundred to more than 20,000 employees.
But even the best leaders make mistakes, and Schmidt is no exception.
Here are 10 things that he could have done better.
Schmidt often stumbled when talking about privacy, with statements like 'If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place' (on CNBC) and 'We know where you are. We know where you've been. We can more or less know what you're thinking about' (in an interview with The Atlantic). He also said on CNN that people who didn't like their homes photographed by Google's Street View cameras could 'just move.'
Schmidt sometimes gave the impression he wasn't really in charge, like when he told an audience last December that he didn't want Google to do a browser or an operating system, but Larry Page and Sergey Brin went around him and started the Chrome project anyway.
In 2007, Schmidt reportedly got chewed out by Steve Jobs when word leaked that Google was working with HTC on an Android phone. The surprising part: apparently Schmidt didn't expect Jobs to be angry. Eventually, the companies' increasing competition in mobile got Schmidt kicked off Apple's board.
Early during his tenure at Google, Schmidt asked the search team to bury a search result about a political donation, according to Steven Levy's upcoming book, 'In The Plex.' He was told 'no way.' (Schmidt has since denied the incident happened.)
Some small businesses are taking part of their search advertising budget and moving it into daily deals sites like Groupon instead. Google saw the trend and wanted into the daily deals business so badly that it bid $6 billion for Groupon, but Groupon refused and the deal broke down last December.
This has been a problem for years. In 2006, Google paid $900 million for the right to power search on MySpace -- just as it was about to be eclipsed by Facebook.
In 2007, Google let Microsoft outbid it to take a small stake in Facebook at a $15 billion valuation, which seemed crazy at the time but now looks cheap. Now Bing is using Facebook's social information to improve its search results, while Google is having to build its own social search features.
More recently, Schmidt has downplayed Facebook as a competitor, saying that Microsoft is still the company Google watches most. New CEO Larry Page apparently disagrees, and has made winning in social a top Google priority for 2011.
Google may have underestimated Facebook, but it has been trying to add social components to its services for years -- and for the most part has failed miserably. Orkut, Buzz, Wave, Dodgeball ... the list goes on and on. It's not entirely Schmidt's fault, but as leader he has to take some responsibility for these misses.
Under Schmidt, Google had a troubled relationship with content owners and media companies. Buying YouTube while it still had lots of pirated content -- and being slow to create a system to enforce takedown orders -- didn't help Google's relationship with Hollywood either. Distrust from content owners is one reason why Google still doesn't have an iTunes equivalent.
In 2005, Google paid $1 billion for a 5% stake in AOL. Four years later, the company sold its stake for $283 million. At the time, Google may have thought it needed AOL to keep its search share strong, but AOL's audience declined and Google's organic search share skyrocketed over the same period.