This story is part of the Behind the Desk series, where CNBC Make It personal with successful business executives to learn everything from how they got to the place, to what makes them get out of bed in the morning, to everyday affairs
When it comes to career achievements, it’s hard to surpass Eric Schmidt.
Co-founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin hired Schmidt in 2001 as chairman and then CEO of Google, who called himself a software botanist from Falls Church, Virginia, to provide some “adult oversight” for their growing search engine. online. At the time, Schmidt was only 46 years old, but he was already an experienced technical manager, in his resume held senior positions at Novell and Sun Microsystems.
He served as CEO of Google until 2011, helping to transform the company from a young startup from Silicon Valley to a global technology hippopotamus with a market value of more than $ 1.8 trillion. He remained as Executive Chairman until 2017 and Technical Adviser until 2020.
Schmidt is currently the 66th richest man in the world with a net worth of about $ 23 billion, according to Forbes, so it’s easy to forget how small Google was when it came on the scene.
“There were 100 people in the company, and I didn’t really believe in the advertising model,” Schmidt, 66, told CNBC Make It. He says that even as CEO, he didn’t know how much Google could grow: “I really liked people.”
Instead of promoting some grand plan to turn the startup into a giant, he said, he focused on his own individual strengths – being a workaholic, having a passion for creating things and leaning towards his sympathy. This last trait, he says, has made people sometimes underestimate it.
“I always benefited from the presumption that I was a nice guy and not a very good businessman. So my trick was: I’ve always been the kindest person in the room, “says Schmidt, adding that if you use this strategy,” you’d better be able to back it up with real rigor, real results and real decision-making. “
From Google’s point of view, the rest is history. Today, Schmidt focuses on his nonprofit organization Schmidt Futures, which funds research into big ideas in areas such as artificial intelligence, biology and energy. Last year, he co-authored The Age of II as a roadmap for what the future of technology might look like.
Here, Schmidt discusses building a successful career, working with Steve Jobs, his biggest mistakes at Google, and how he copes with criticism.
About building a successful career: “Luck is the first and most important thing I had”
I think that everyone in my position should start with the fact that luck is the first and most important thing I have. Good luck at birth, education, interest, time and the business I was in. I’ve also worked hard, but luck is no less important, if not more important, and if you’re lucky, you create your own luck.
I was a young leader, rose fairly quickly. I describe myself as a workaholic. Most people, thank God, are not workaholics.
The most successful people have a lot of skills as well as restraint. I don’t think I understood my ambitions – I just thought what we were working on was very interesting. But I gained strength in adulthood.
It took me a long time to figure out who I am and what I’m good at. It is important to be aware of who you are, how you behave and react, because there is so much criticism and pressure today, especially against young people.
How Steve Jobs influenced his leadership style: he “wasn’t a normal person, by any means.”
Steve Jobs, with whom I worked very closely [Jobs recruited Schmidt to be on Apple’s board from 2006 to 2009] and admired the great, was not a normal person, anyway.
When he was “included,” his charisma and insight were so unusually better than anyone else’s that he was able to overcome any flaws by the way he treated people. People admired them so much.
If you look at history, great leaders have a unique ability to inspire people on a personal basis. What matters is not whether you are shaky or reserved, but whether you can inspire people to join and get excited to change the world.
[Personally], I learned that it is important to have teenagers. They are relatively unmanageable, but they need to be managed. You learn to allow them to do what they want until it becomes dangerous or serious. Then you have to put your foot down. All is well until that happens, and in that case we must act quickly.
This is a pretty good management style. But I don’t want to say that there is only one management style.
Turning Google into a hippopotamus: “We’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way”
It was profitable for me to work with Larry [Page] and Sergei [Brin]who were my best friends and partners. Larry and I, Sergei and I had these huge food fights over one thing or another. We honestly wouldn’t agree. But there was never a moment that I doubted their commitment to the company and the cause.
If they agreed, I would usually just say yes. If they did not agree, I would force the process in which the three of us came to some conclusion. Usually their ideas were better than mine.
[When I started at Google] I didn’t understand the scale of the campaign, and I had no idea it was possible. I would be suspicious if you told me [how big Google would get]. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing – but we made a lot of mistakes along the way.
I think the biggest mistake I made as CEO was on social media: Google was early on social media, but didn’t do it very well. The timing of entry into these platform markets, which are about to explode, is incredibly important. Even early for a few months has a big difference with the right product.