Will Page as CEO usher in a sea change at Google?

Larry Page won't be Eric Schmidt 2.0 and engineers will rule, but Google's now much different than the startup he ran in the past

However Larry Page decides to lead Google, one thing is for sure: He's not going to be Eric Schmidt 2.0.

That's the word coming from industry analysts just days after Page became the CEO of Google. With Schmidt stepping down to become the online powerhouse's executive chairman, Page, a co-founder, is back in the big chair.

And everyone is expecting some significant changes.

"It's very reasonable that Larry is going to sit down and he's going to reorganize the company," said Colin Gillis, an analyst at BGC Financial, a New York-based investment firm. "Larry is taking over, and he's likely to make some broad changes and he's likely to do it relatively quickly."

Actually, those changes came immediately.

Page officially took over as CEO on Monday -- the very day that Jonathan Rosenberg, Google's product chief, announced that he plans to resign. By all accounts a highly crucial cog in the Google machine, Rosenberg is expected to exit the company in the coming months. At this point, it's unclear who will replace him, or if he will be replaced at all.

Also on Monday, Google announced that it is bidding $900 million in cash for thousands of patents that Nortel is auctioning off as part of its bankruptcy proceedings.

Obviously, the decision to make such a huge bid was in the works for some time, and Page must have had a hand in the move while he was transitioning into the CEO's office. And it's not as if Page had been uninvolved with the company while Schmidt was in charge.

Schmidt, Page and Google co-founder Sergey Brin have been the triumvirate behind the company's rise to the dominant position it holds today.

The difference, however, is that while Page has been focused on innovation, Schmidt was the one making sure that Google was making money and that its stock price stayed up.

Now the weight of both concerns -- innovation and business success -- will fall more solidly on Page.

"[Page] has good vision. He's very much a strong intellectual. He's a challenging type," said Gillis, adding that Google is a much different beast than it was when Page first ran it as a startup.

"Remember: It's a bigger ship to turn. It's 200 people versus [24,000 employees today]. It's private company versus a public company. This is a lot different," he said.

And word is that Page would like Google to again be run like a hungry young startup -- with less bureaucracy and more innovation, and with fewer middle managers and more engineers.

That means there's a potential management shake-up in the offing.

Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group, said he wouldn't be surprised if some middle managers were let go in the coming months -- a move that he thinks would be a big mistake.

"Google is an engineering company and by nature it would be predominantly engineers," Enderle said. "However, a firm made up predominantly of engineers would lack the skills and depth the company would need."

"Google already is excessively engineering-focused which is part of why they haven't been able to avoid [angering] governments, and why their image is declining," he said.

Others think Page just might be able to inject exactly what Google needs -- a dose of excitement and innovation.

"As a co-founder steeped in engineering and innovation, Page is the perfect type of CEO for a company looking to recapture its startup mojo and compete in a predominantly cloud-driven marketplace where speed in engineering matters more than generating investor buzz," said Brad Shimmin, an analyst with Current Analysis.

"Page can engender a true sense of unity and leadership where previously there was confusion and even infighting between the founders and their appointed CEO, Eric Schmidt," he said.

However, Shimmin warns that Page should be careful to not pinpoint his focus on innovation.

"Believe it or not, I think Google should slow its rate of innovation, focusing not so much on wild ideas such as self-driving cars and instead focus on improving its existing portfolio," he said. "For example, Google Apps should see enough investment to make it a truly unified, mature and enterprise-centric platform capable of beating rivals IBM and Microsoft feature for feature."

Both Enderle and Gillis said Page needs to deal with the company's trust issues.

"Google is at a crossroads," Enderle said, explaining that it appears to be "unfocused, increasingly difficult to work with for partners, and a problem to correct for governments."

"The company's image has degraded to a point where few would trust them, and trust is critical to much of what they intend to accomplish in the future," Enderle said. "It is well past time the founders looked into the mirror and realized they have become a company they wouldn't choose to work with. Fixing that problem should be their highest priority."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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