May 1, 2002: Larry Page And Eric Schmidt Talk About Google, The Future, And Their Dynamic

On May 1, 2002, two men took the stage at a Stanford University event to answer some questions about their startup. The startup? Google. The two men? Eric Schmidt and Larry Page.

That was less than a year after Schmidt officially became CEO of the company, taking over the role from Page. Yesterday, after a decade of success, the two announced they would be switching back. And while some answers are starting to trickle out as to why such a change is taking place now, it’s fascinating to look back in time and see how it all began. Luckily, Stanford captured the talk in 24 short videos clips found here.

One particularly interesting clip is where Schmidt talks about “new leadership and organizational change”. Schmidt talks about the differences between running Novell and Google. “What I found was a company that was working extremely well, but just needed a little bit of list-making and structure. And that’s frankly what I’ve been relegated to,” Schmidt says of Google with a laugh. “Oh no, that’s not true,” Page chimes in. Still laughing, Schmidt says, “It’s okay, your strategy is working pretty good. It’s working well so far.

Reports today have similar tension being behind the switch. And while they’re clearly at least half-joking here, it’s actually kind of amazing the partnership lasted in the same capacity eight and a half years later.  It’s also funny to hear Schmidt refer to the company as “the Google”.

Another clip has Schmidt talking about how Google won the then all-important partnership with AOL for search. He kicks things off by saying, “One of the most wonderful things about being a private company is that we don’t have to answer any of those questions.” Remember, that was over two years before Google’s IPO. And that response sounds a bit like something Facebook would say today.

In another clip, Page shows off a picture of a really happy day at Google. Why was everyone so happy? They had just signed the AOL deal. (Hey, like us!)

In this clip, Page talks about innovation at Google. “I guess as Google’s gotten bigger — we’re almost 400 people now — you start to notice that s you get more and more people working on one thing, it’s harder and harder for them to be innovating just because of the communications cost and the inertia and all those kinds of things,” Page says. Again, that was an issue with 400 people — Google now has nearly 25,000 employees. And so perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that this slow down in innovation was one of the reasons cited for yesterday’s change.

Here, Schmidt jokes that “I should say, by the way, that after seeing the way we hire people, I’m amazed that I got through the filter.”

But this video may be the most interesting of all. On the topic of legal issues, Schmidt and Page joke about a couple of different things facing the company, but they’re also clearly serious. Schmidt is concerned about a lawsuit against Google, while Page is concerned about DMCA takedowns (pertaining to Scientology, in this case). Schmidt cares about the business side, Page cares about the information side.

Finally, here Page talks about Google censorship in some countries. While he notes it isn’t a big issue at the time, he worries that it could become a big issue. A report today in the New Yorker by Ken Auletta has one of the main reasons for the CEO shakeup being that Page sided with co-founder Sergey Brin over their pull-out of China, while Schmidt, again from a business perspective, wanted to go the other way.

Each of the short videos is a fascinating look into the early days of the company and the perspective of Page and Schmidt, the once and future CEOs of Google.