When Omid Kordestani joined Google in 1999, founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page had a powerful algorithm but no idea how to become a real company.
So, Kordestani became its “business founder,” essentially building the fledgling company’s business operations from scratch.
He sealed major partnerships with the likes of Netscape, Yahoo, and AOL. Under Kordestani’s leadership, the company became profitable as early as 2001.
Kordestani himself became fabulously rich when Google IPO’d in 2004, and eventually left the company in 2009.
“I had never stopped in my life,” Kordestani explained on stage at Re/code’s Code Conference earlier this week, as Kara Swisher grilled him on why he left. “I had never taken a pause before.”
Kordestani, an Iranian immigrant to the United States, says that around 2009 he noticed that a spat of other high-ranking execs were leaving — like Tim Armstrong taking over at AOL and Sheryl Sandberg making waves at Facebook — and he decided it was time to take a step back, too, and see what the next generation of management could do for Google.
So, he left his SVP of global sales job at Google to spend more time with his family, advise startups (including big players like Spotify and Vodafone), and play golf and tennis.
“It was so wonderful to have this calendar that I could control for the first time in my life,” he says.
But he couldn’t exit the orbit of Google entirely. When he left, Larry Page asked him to stay involved with the company as an advisor.
Every other month or so he’d come to Google’s campus to spend “friendly time” with Page. They’d while away a few hours talking about the challenges that the CEO was struggling with and Kordestani would provide his input.
After five years of this, Page had an idea. In 2014, Google’s chief business officer, Nikesh Arora, wanted to leave the company. Page wanted Kordestani to take back the reins.
“When Larry told me last summer when Nikesh was leaving, I said ‘I don’t even know if I can do this job. The company has tripled since I left,'” Kordestani says. But, at Page’s behest, he agreed to come back on an interim basis, to see if he still liked the job and whether he could run a multi-hundred billion-dollar company.
“You were rich and retired — why in the world would you come back,” Swisher asked.
Kordestani says that he “listened to [his] heart” and knew he needed to at least give the role a try.
“I fell in love all over again,” he says. “The perspective you get when you leave is that all the problems that you have are actually interesting.”
And there are problems. Google’s core search business has faced increased scepticism as of late, as critics question why growth is slowing, and whether Google can reverse that trend. In its last earnings call, the company assured analysts and investors that the amount it can charge per ad click is declining because it’s selling more YouTube ads, and it can’t charge as much for those yet.
That completely discarded a popular, much-discussed theory that Google still hasn’t been able to monetise as well on mobile. Kordestani said on stage that he personally wished Google gave more visibility into specific numbers.
“Frankly it would help me on the business side,” he says.