One day in July 2001, Larry Page decided to fire Google’s project managers. All of them. It was just five years since Page, then a 22-year-old graduate student at Stanford, was struck in the middle of the night with a vision. In it, he somehow managed to download the entire Web and by examining the links between the pages he saw the world’s information in an entirely new way.
What Page wrote down that night became the basis for an algorithm. He called it PageRank and used it to power a new Web search engine called BackRub. The name didn’t stick.
By July 2001, BackRub had been renamed Google and was doing really well. It had millions of users, an impressive list of investors, and 400 employees, including about a half-dozen project managers.
As at most startups, in Google’s first year there were no management layers between the CEO, Page, and the engineers. But as the company grew, it added a layer of managers, people who could meet with Page and the rest of Google’s senior executives and give the engineers prioritised orders and deadlines.
Page, now 28, hated it. Since Google hired only the most talented engineers, he thought that extra layer of supervision was not just unnecessary but also an impediment. He also suspected that Google’s project managers were steering engineers away from working on projects that were personally important to him. For example, Page had outlined a plan to scan all the world’s books and make them searchable online, but somehow no one was working on it. Page blamed the project managers.
Some dramatic streamlining was called for, he resolved. Instead of the project managers, all of Google’s engineers would report to one person, a newly hired VP of engineering named Wayne Rosing, and Rosing would report directly to him.
Google’s human resources boss, a serious woman with bangs named Stacey Sullivan, thought Page’s plan was nuts, according to “I’m Feeling Lucky,” Douglas Edwards’ inside view of Google’s early years. Sullivan told Page so. “You can’t just self-organise!” she said. “People need someone to go to when they have problems!”
Page ignored her.
Sullivan took her concerns to Eric Schmidt. In March, Schmidt had become the chairman of Google. Everyone assumed he’d be CEO as soon as he could leave his full-time job as CEO of Novell.
Schmidt agreed with Sullivan. So did Page’s executive coach, Bill Campbell. Everyone called Campbell “Coach” because he’d once been Columbia University’s football coach. He still walked and talked like he was pacing a sideline.
As Steven Levy detailed in his own rollicking Google history, “In the Plex,” one evening, Campbell got into a big argument with Page about his plan. To prove his point, Campbell brought engineer after engineer into Page’s office to offer their perspective. One after another, they told Page that they actually preferred to have a manager — someone who could end disagreements and give their teams direction.
But Page was determined…
This post is an excerpt of a brilliant feature on Larry Page.
You can read the full piece over on Business Insider Australia.