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Larry Page reclaimed the reins as Google’s CEO one year ago Wednesday.The stock price is about flat since then.
But short-term stock movements aren’t the best way to judge a CEO — especially for a company like Google, which is so big that finding a new billion-dollar business will barely move the needle.
Plus, Page has told employees to focus on big bets. He’s a long-term thinker.
So how’s he doing, really? Here’s our assessment.
Back in 2010, it seemed like key Googlers were jumping ship for Facebook or Twitter every week. Google still has defections and naysayers, but overall, employee satisfaction is at an all time high -- in fact, Google employees rated their company higher than Facebook employees for the first time ever in a recent Glassdoor poll.
Google has a long history of failures in social: from Dodgeball to Buzz to Wave.
Then came Google+. It hasn't been a smash hit -- Google counts more than 100 million monthly users, but that's across all Google sites, and visitors aren't spending a lot of time on the actual Google+ site.
But that doesn't really matter. Now Google is gathering social information about who its users are, who they're connected to, and what they like. And it's using this data to improve its services.
The real measure of its success: when a Google+ user gives a +1 rating to an ad, clickthrough rates go up 5 to 10 per cent.
Google+ was hatched years ago, but it launched under Larry Page's leadership.
He wants Google to focus, but the company is still going in way too many directions at once. GRADE: D
Page promised to put 'more wood behind fewer arrows,' and has shut down a bunch of marginal businesses like Slide, Buzz, and Google Labs.
But Google has way too many things going on at once: smartphones, tablets, home audio systems, TV remote controls, a pay TV system delivered over fibre optic cable in Kansas City, mobile payments, self-driving cars, two mobile operating systems (Android and Chrome) ... even one-day shipping.
Google desperately needs to build thriving new businesses. But moving in a million different directions at once isn't the way to do it.
He is trying to turn mobile into a meaningful business, but it's too early to tell if buying Motorola will be genius, or a disaster. GRADE: B-
Computing is going mobile, but Google isn't leading the revolution -- Apple is.
Android is a smash success in one area: smartphone market share. But it's nowhere in tablets -- the only successful Android tablet is the Amazon Kindle, which only uses Android deep down in its core. Key mobile initiatives like Google Wallet are nowhere. New versions of Android trickle out slowly to existing phones, or not at all. And Android doesn't contribute meaningfully to Google's revenues.
The purchase of Motorola could help Google build first-rate smartphones and tablets, but integrating the 19,000-person company will be a huge chore, and it's not clear that other Android partners will stick around if Google makes the transition to a more Apple-like company. This is a sticky situation.
At least Google's not in Microsoft's situation, though.
It could be worse -- the EU is in the early stages of an investigation but hasn't filed a formal list of complaints yet, and U.S. regulators haven't filed any formal antitrust charges. But it could also be better -- last spring, Google had to pay a surprise $500 million fine for accepting illegal ads for non-US pharmacies, and now regulators are examining recent privacy changes and snafus.
This isn't all Page's fault -- big powerful companies always operate under the microscope -- but the company has taken a belligerent tone when caught doing stupid things like bypassing default privacy settings on Safari. That's exactly the kind of attitude that got Microsoft in trouble. More humility is in order.
Google couldn't even get one of the four major record labels -- Warner -- to sell songs in its music store, putting Google Music instantly behind iTunes, Amazon, and every other major online store out there. Page also failed to close a deal for Hulu, which would have instantly made Google a huge player in online video (although that might have been a good miss, since Google would have had to renegotiate the licenses in a few years anyway).
On the plus side, companies like Disney are now allowing their films to be rented through YouTube, and Google did invest a couple hundred million in original content from some big-name players. But overall, Google needs to do a better job with Hollywood if it wants to be taken seriously as a content provider.
He's trying to rationalize acquisitions, but last year Google spent money like a kid in a candy store. GRADE: C
Sometimes it seems like Google is on the biggest acquisition binge in history.
Google made more than 50 acquisitions last year, and there seemed to be little clear pattern to them -- some were small technology or personnel buys, others were major moves into new businesses (like Motorola). Others just seemed like oddball hobby purchases (like Zagat).
Page is reportedly trying to crack down, making sure that all acquisitions fit into one of Google's seven main product lines and making sure that acquired teams don't just disappear without a trace. Those seem like common sense steps that should have been taken years ago.
No company can survive forever if it's dependent on a single business line. But one year after Page took over, and 14 years after he cofounded the company, Google still gets 96% of its revenue from advertising, and the majority of that almost certainly comes from search.
Google has plenty of other promising businesses: display ads, YouTube, Android, even Apps and Gmail. But so far, none of them are coming close to search in terms of generating cash.
The only reason Page doesn't get an F here is because at least he took a huge step forward by spending $12.5 billion on Motorola. That could be a disaster, but it's a decisive move.
Yes, Google continues to be mostly a one-trick pony -- but what a trick! Search advertising continues to be the greatest Internet business ever created.
Despite all the hue and cry from Internet pundits when it incorporated social results into search, Google's overall search market share GREW after it introduced the changes.
Microsoft has managed to claw a couple points of U.S. market share in the last couple years, but Yahoo (which is powered by Microsoft's technology and ad platform) has conveniently imploded at the same time. And outside of the U.S. and China (where Google is basically banned), nobody else is close. Same with mobile.
If you average the nine scores using the four point scale used in grade point averages, Page comes out with a 2.4. That's about a C+.
That seems to be how investors are grading Page as well. The stock hasn't gone up much since he took over, but it hasn't plummeted either.
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