Larry Page is the prototypical inscrutable CEO. In a rare interview Monday at the Fortune Global Forum, Page didn’t say much about much. He is an engineer who speaks like one, and he’s also a clever guy who knows how to keep his considerable cards close to his vest.
Page did make one offhand comment that resonated with me, especially the more I think about it. Asked how he thought about Google’s plans in China, he said, “I’ve delegated this question to Sundar. I help him think about it so I don’t have to answer this question.” He was referring to Sundar Pichai, the veteran product executive Page made CEO of Google when he created the holding company Alphabet and made himself CEO of the new entity. (Not for nothing, Page chuckled and grinned widely after saying this. Watch the full interview here.)
That comment did more than anything previously to help me understand the point of Alphabet. This is now the second time Page has handed off day-to-day responsibility for the core Google business. The first time he dished it to Eric Schmidt, in order to get a more seasoned hand in charge. By now a seasoned executive himself, this time Page handed off Google so he could focus on big thoughts and leave the operational details to someone else.
It makes perfect sense. I highly doubt Page suddenly has become lazy. Still, does he want to spend hours and days diving into the nitty-gritty of how Google can bring its ad-search business to China? Maybe yes, maybe no. Regardless, it is Pichai’s responsibility to do so, and Page can dart in and out as warranted—and as he chooses.
It’s not as if Page is the only CEO to outsource such important tasks. In an interview at the conference on Tuesday, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts told me he uses the same structure. Veteran media executive Steve Burke runs NBCUniversal, and Neil Smit, a seasoned cable hand, oversees Comcast’s cable business. Roberts says his chief task is to think about Comcast’s culture. That’s undoubtedly a gross understatement, but it’s no joke that Burke and Smit are responsible for their domains at Comcast.
It is cliché to say the CEO job is too big for one person. Cliché, perhaps, but also sometimes true, as Page, Roberts, and other clear-thinking chief executives can attest.
BITS AND BYTES
Facebook boasts 8 billion daily video views. That’s double the number it disclosed just six months ago, although some of the social network’s rivals, like YouTube, dispute what counts as a “view.” The revelation came during Facebook’s surprisingly strong third-quarter financial update. The company handily beat both revenue and profit forecasts. (Fortune, Reuters)
Expedia offers $3.9 billion for Airbnb competitor. HomeAway specializes in vacation property rentals. The deal price, roughly a 20% premium over the company’s current share price, represents the online travel site’s biggest acquisition to date. (Reuters)
Qualcomm results illustrate struggles in China. The chipmaker, a powerhouse in mobile and wireless technologies, is having trouble collecting from Chinese customers as they seek to negotiate better licensing terms. That took a toll on fourth-quarter revenue and profit. This is a transition year for Qualcomm, as it diversifies into chips for drones and devices connected to the Internet of things. (Fortune)
Virtual currency prices on the rise. The value of a single bitcoin hit $500 Wednesday on the growing number of exchanges that trade it, although the price settled the day closer to $400. Prices are rising fastest in China, in part because of ongoing volatility in its domestic stock market. (New York Times)
E-commerce upstart Jet.com is raising another $500 million. The round will catapult the company, launched in July, into the unicorn club. Its leader, Marc Lore, sold his previous company to Amazon. Sources estimate September sales volume at $20 million. (Fortune)
Marc Andreessen unloads 15% of his Facebook stake. The sale, made through two of the venture capitalist’s trusts and disclosed in a regulatory filing, were part of a scheduled trading plan. Collectively, the nine transactions netted $31.9 million. (Wall Street Journal)
Dropbox: Businesses really love us too
The cloud file-sharing company wants the outside world to know it now has more than 150,000 paying customers for its Dropbox for Business service, including the likes of men’s clothing retailer Bonobos, social network Pinterest and travel website Expedia.
That amounts to 50,000 new accounts added in the past 10 months, Dropbox founder and CEO Drew Houston said at the Dropbox Open event on Wednesday.
For the sake of comparison, Dropbox rival Box has roughly 50,000 paying business customers. That’s its total number, although many of the accounts it references are bigger than ones cited by Dropbox.
Houston used his soapbox to counter criticism that his company, a one-time Silicon Valley darling last valued at more than $10 billion by private investors, is widely used by consumers, few of which pay for its services. Increasingly, Dropbox is recasting itself in the role of a collaboration software company, one that can help businesses share information more efficiently—and generate meaningful revenue along the way. In other words, it’s sounding more like Box by the day.
Visit Fortune.com for more details about their escalating rivalry. Plus, here’s what Apple’s senior vice president of Internet services, Eddie Cue, had to say about his company’s influence among businesses.
FORTUNE GLOBAL FORUM TECH COVERAGE
Robots: Will they steal your job? by Jonathan Vanian
Jamie Dimon: Virtual currency will be stopped by Stephen Gandel
Why ed-tech is currently the ‘Wild, Wild West’ by Jennifer Reingold
Why CEOs today will have shorter tenures by Beth Kowitt
Airbnb’s Chesky: We weren’t on the ballot, the hosts were
by Michal Lev-Ram
Beware the new activists by Clifton Leaf
Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer says listening to employees is Job No. 1
by Kia Kokalitcheva
ONE MORE THING
How the “sharing economy” is reshaping local politics. After successfully thwarting a ballot measure in San Francisco that would have limited its growth there, Airbnb is creating 100 homeowner “clubs” in cities around the world to fend off similar legislative threats. (New York Times)