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Google CEO Larry Page's Innovation: The Drive-By Earnings Call

Yesterday's Google (GOOG) earnings call, in which the company missed Wall Street expectations, left me thinking how apt it would have been had co-founder Larry Page started as CEO on April Fool's Day (instead of April 4). Google has as many problems as opportunities right now, and needs a CEO who can exhibit the experience, temperament, and sensitivity to stakeholders necessary to set things right.

Too bad Page is doing just the opposite.

Page deigned to remain on the call for all of 2 to 3 minutes. Granted, the last quarter was actually under the steerage of former CEO Eric Schmidt. But that doesn't matter for the following reasons:

Page, however, is clearly uninterested in explaining himself or what he does to anyone. He still sounds like the guy who, in the early days of the company, ticked off Barry Diller in a meeting by staring at his PDA as the media billionaire talked.

Henry Blodget is right that Google needs to focus on long-term success and innovation, but Page's problem isn't that he's failed to bury his nose in Wall Street's backside. A chief executive who can't muster enough interest to address analysts and investors when his company's performance is in question simply may not have the interpersonal skills to manage a large enterprise, or even a small one. Is there any doubt that Page's drive-by commentary was a major reason Google shares fell 4.6 percent after hours?

To top it, the financials slide show used RealPlayer and Windows Media Player, rather than YouTube, which, as Liz Gannes points out, the company used in recent quarters. It's hard to argue for your own superiority when you rely on competitors products.

Page's running of Google has all the earmarks of a disaster in the making. A hasty judgment? Perhaps, but you can tell a lot in a few minutes by how people handle themselves. If Page hasn't changed in the last 11 years, then a new title isn't going to make much difference. And that will severely limit what he can accomplish. No matter how much Google would like to automate the world, companies are always in the people business.


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