We look at structures like Versailles or the Great Pyramid and marvel at how they were built on the whims of rich and powerful individuals.
But here’s the thing.
Louis XIV, with his fancy house, and Khufu, with his big gravestone, haven’t got a thing on Google CEO Larry Page.
Page is living a life that has almost no precedent in human history.
He has an expansive belief in the possible, and, because he built and essentially owns Google, he now has the power to spend a seemingly limitless amount of money pursuing almost any ambition he pleases.
Here’s how that happened:
Google search advertising is a magical money making machine.
It has $US54 billion in cash. In the last twelve months it generated nearly $US18 billion in profits.
Together with his cofounder, Sergey Brin, Page holds a majority of the voting stock in Google. The fact is: Google is a publicly traded company that essentially has private owners.
Brin largely defers to Page on running the company. He always has.
Because of that deference, Page can pretty much do what he wants with Google’s money.
He can, and he does.
Since he became Google CEO again in 2011, Page has demonstrated a willingness to spend that cash on wildly ambitious and expensive projects.
Some of these projects seem to fit a strategic business agenda, if loosely. Google spent $US12 billion on Motorola like it was nothing. It’s creating a new gadget category with Google Glass. It’s connecting whole cities to the Internet through fibre optic cables.
Some of these projects seem less to do with Google’s Internet and technology business. It’s working on building and selling self-driving cars to consumers. It’s created a for-profit subsidiary to solve mortality. We’ve heard it’s building a quantum computer to solve problems like teleportation.
At Google they call these projects “moonshots.”
That’s a reference to the United States government’s Apollo program, which began in 1961 and put a man on the moon in 1969. According to NASA, the Apollo program eventually cost $US25.4 billion (about $US160 billion in 2013 dollars). That’s about $US20 billion per year.
Page can’t spend that kind of money on projects yet, obviously.
But how remarkable is it that Page’s budget is in the same ballpark?
The big counter-argument to these thoughts about Page is that he hasn’t put anybody on the moon yet.
That’s true, though creating Google search and making Android the world’s most popular computer operating system are two impressive feats.
No matter. It’s going to be fun for the rest of us watching him try.
(By the way, he’s only 40 years old.)