Life 'In The Plex': The Future Of Google Steven Levy, author of In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives, says the Internet giant's new CEO, Larry Page, will do things differently from his predecessor. But Page's values have always been the core values of the company he co-founded as a young Stanford postgraduate, Levy says.
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Life 'In The Plex': The Future Of Google

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Life 'In The Plex': The Future Of Google

Life 'In The Plex': The Future Of Google

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Today, Google gets a new CEO. Larry Page takes the reins, though he's hardly new. Page co-founded Google as a young Stanford postgraduate and was briefly CEO before handing the position to the more experienced manager, Eric Schmidt. Larry Page remained a key decision-maker. Still, he's becoming the CEO of a company that is very different from the one he helped found 13 years ago.

To talk more about this, we're joined by Steven Levy. He's a senior writer at Wired magazine and he has a new book about Google called In The Plex.

Good morning.

Mr. STEVEN LEVY (Senior Writer, Wired Magazine): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: So Larry Page once said Google is not a conventional company and we do not intend to become one. But Google has become a public company with more than 20,000 employees making tens of billions of dollars. Is Page taking over a company that's more conventional than he might like?

Mr. LEVY: I think that's the case. Google is in the position of denying gravity in a way, and it's ironic, because it is a company that prides itself on looking at data and logic. But in order to succeed and continue to succeed as it has been, it really has to think and act and be nimble like a smaller company than it really is. So it keeps thinking of innovative ways to pretend it's a small company with the hunger and nimbleness of a startup.

MONTAGNE: Will Larry Page though, do things differently than Eric Schmidt? I mean way back when, Eric Schmidt was the corporate manager that was sort of brought in for adult supervision.

Mr. LEVY: Well, I think Larry will do things differently. But in a way, Larry's values have always been the core values of Google. Even while Eric was the CEO, it was Larry whose obsession with speed and scale, ambition and artificial intelligence, and these were values he shared with his co-founder Sergey Brin. But, you know, those were the things that Google engineers held up as ideals there.

Eric's job was sort of to sit back with a rudder and sort of steer that ambition and those huge goals and, you know, sometimes audacious projects that Larry would set Google on. So it will be interesting to see what happens when Eric's hand doesn't really reach over to Larry's shoulder and say, well, maybe, Larry, not now, which has happened a lot over the years.

MONTAGNE: Well, Larry Page has been known as a geek visionary. So what might he do given the company that he's becoming CEO of?

Mr. LEVY: Well one thing, I think we'd expect more of what they call moon shots, things that most outsiders would say is beyond what Google should be doing. The idea of sticking to your knitting, which is a big cliche in the corporate world, is something that's very alien to Larry. So whether it's scanning all the books in the world or, more recently, developing cars that drive themselves, these are the kind of things that interest Larry. And in another sense, it'll be things like applying novel ways to controlling a multibillion-dollar company. For instance, just since he's been announced to be the CEO, he's really taken over in that role already, and he has had innovations, like key managers, the different divisions of Google all get together a few afternoons a week and work together as if in a war room situation.

They sit in there with their - and they do their emails and they connect with their divisions, but if something just comes to them at the spur of the moment, they say hey, maybe the company should do this, or here's what I'm doing out there in the Android division. What do you think of that? How's that going to work with search, and the head of search will be there.

MONTAGNE: How worried is Larry Page about what might be called their biggest competitor and that would be Facebook?

Mr. LEVY: Google is in a Facebook panic right now, because their biggest fear is that Facebook, which is going to approach a billion users eventually, will be creating and sharing information that Google can't get hold of in its indexes. And that's really going to weaken all the things that Google wants to do.

And that's why it is a super high priority for Google, and now for Larry, who has really changed his focus since he became CEO, to develop products that are going to allow it not to maybe directly to compete with Facebook, but to give it that same stake in personal information that might bring Facebook to the table and allow it to share information with Google.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. LEVY: My pleasure.

MONTAGNE: Steven Levy is a senior writer at Wired magazine. His new book is In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives.

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