“Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one.” This is how Larry Page and Sergey Brin described their start-up when it went public in 2004. A promise that held (mostly) true throughout these 11 years and still resonates with their newest creature, Alphabet, a holding company that will manage and coordinate all Big G’s disparate businesses (from Google itself to Android, Maps, YouTube, Gmail and so on).
This wide restructuring of the tech giant’s business operations will allow Google to focus on developing its own products, while giving other Alphabet subsidiaries the independence to further their own brands. Companies not relevant to Google’s internet products will be spun out into their own companies under the Alphabet umbrella. The new CEO of the slimmed-down Google Inc. will be Sundar Pichai, one of the most talented leaders in today’s tech world.
Since its inception in 1998 Google has invested billions of dollars in research and development, literally inventing new markets and launching a variety of spin-offs, including some quite unknown but working hard to create innovative products or solutions. Among these, it’s worth mentioning Calico (a biotech company focused on combating ageing and associated diseases), Fiber (providing broadband internet and cable television to small and remote locations), and Google X (a semi-secret facility dedicated to making major technological advancements, such as the driverless car).
Going with the flow
In his Book of Five Rings, Japanese swordsman, artist and poet Miyamoto Musashi wrote that nature is constantly changing and people must adapt to new environments. In his ongoing embrace of this method, Google (pardon, Alphabet) is now adjusting its course and modifying once again its shape and reach – just like a river that is constantly adapting its flow between rocks and trees.
This is a mutation process that forces the company to focus on consolidating its businesses, make investors happy and constantly pursue new research-and-development projects. Two different paths that sometimes lead to different goals – another reason to establish an umbrella holding enterprises, as many tech and financial giants did in the past, to improve overall management and keep every team focused on its own objectives. Indeed, Google is now gearing toward a broader presence in the ever-expanding telecom field. A major goal is to provide broadband internet access in the developing world and extend its Android mobile reach, thus enabling a new large user base that in five years could become very valuable and profitable.
In the meantime, Google X labs is still working to improve its Google Glass: even if many labelled it a failure, its potential success relies on specific market sectors, as a working tool for many jobs but not as a mass product. On the news media front Google remains quite cautious, still measuring the impact of unresolved issues with many publishers worldwide and observing Facebook’s aggressive expansion in the news sector. It’s also worth noticing some recent machine-learning advances, including Google Photos and Google Now, while Google+ seems to be slowly unfolding and renouncing to challenge the social Facebook empire.
A no break-up break-up
On the other hand, though, it’s undeniable that the Alphabet inception is also a preventative move. Google has become an economical and political superpower, and in recent years has been facing serious anti-trust problems, particularly in the European Union. Therefore, many observers were quick to underline this characterization. Alphabet, Michele Clarke wrote, “is their anti-trust breakup defence. Because of the crushing defeat in Brussels and lesser setbacks in DC. They’re going to now ‘break up’ the company without breaking it up.” It remains to be seen what consequences, if any, this step will entail.
As Steven Levy explains in his 2011 book In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works and Shapes Our Lives, in the end Google is an adventure interlacing different cultures, thoughts and lifestyles. Founded by two Stanford students, somehow their creature managed to integrate Montessori education and Japanese adaptation techniques – thus producing an unconventional company always able to renew itself and open up to new global challenges. If Page and Brin keep pursuing such methods, the Alphabet incarnation will continue to surprise us and (most importantly) change billions of people’s lives for the better.
Image: A Google search page is seen through a magnifying glass in this photo illustration taken in Berlin, August 11, 2015. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski