In some people’s minds, Google’s Larry Page just committed the cardinal sin: He offended Wall Street.
Wall Street has reacted to the first quarter in the Page regime by tossing the stock overboard. Larry Page is spending way too much, Wall Street says. Larry Page isn’t communicating well enough. Larry Page couldn’t even be bothered to spend more than a couple of minutes on the earnings call with Wall Street last night. So to hell with him!
Lost under the outrage, of course, is that Larry Page may be doing exactly the right thing: Focusing on Google and Google’s products and users, instead of Wall Street.
Wall Street loves to be made to feel that there is nothing that matters more to a CEO than Wall Street. But Wall Street’s focus is relentlessly short-term: Wall Street cares about this quarter and next quarter, not the next 10 years. And although short-term performance certainly provides an indication about where a company is headed, for the long-term value of the company itself, it’s nearly irrelevant.
If Google is to wrest back the mantle of innovation leadership from Apple and Facebook, it needs to focus on the long term. It needs to revitalize the culture of innovation that defined the company in the beginning. It needs to make big, bold bets that cost a lot of money. And it needs to address its biggest weaknesses. In short, it needs to do exactly what Larry Page and Sergey Brin said Google would do when it went public seven years go: Focus on the long-term, not the short term, and make decisions that won’t make short-term investors happy.
Doing what Google needs to do to be a fast-growing dominant company in five years means sacrificing some of the bottom line this year and next (and maybe forever). It also means spending less time kowtowing to Wall Street and more time focusing on products and users.
In his first few weeks on the job, Larry Page is doing exactly that. And if Wall Street doesn’t like it, whatever.
There’s a great precedent for doing what Larry Page is doing, by the way. A little commerce company up in Seattle called Amazon.com.For years, Jeff Bezos ran Amazon with little or no regard for Wall Street. He made big bold bets, and he sacrificed the short-term bottom line. He said he was focused on building for the long-term, and he wasted almost no time sucking up to Wall Street. And he said explicitly, if you care about the short-term, then don’t buy our stock.
For years, Wall Street hated Amazon, and the stock moved sideways. Then, gradually, Bezos’s long-term bets began to pay off and Wall Street figured out that Bezos actually knew what he was doing. And now Amazon’s dominating its industry again, and its stock price has gone to the moon.
Investors are right to be concerned that Larry Page may not actually have a clear vision for Google and may lack discipline. In the past, Larry has championed projects like wind power and self-driving cars that there’s no conceivable reason for Google to be pursuing. If Larry continues to pursue these pet projects, and refuses to articulate a clear long-term vision for the main business, then Wall Street may be smart to head for the hills.
But, otherwise, those who want to invest in Google for the long-term, shouldn’t be shaking their heads at Larry’s behaviour. They should be applauding it. Contrary to what Wall Street thinks, Wall Street is often a terrible influence on companies, and some of the best managers in the world (Buffett, Bezos), pretty much ignore it.
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