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CEO Daily: Tuesday, November 3

The Fortune Global Forum got underway yesterday in San Francisco, with business leaders from various industries sharing lessons about the challenges of dealing with rapid change. Dominic Barton of McKinsey said the average life span of a company has gone from 90 years a century ago to 18 years today. Cisco’s John Chambers made a similar point, telling assembled executives that 40% of their companies wouldn’t exist in a decade. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty and Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf said survival meant being willing, in Rometty’s words, to “always disrupt yourself.”

 

But the highlight of the day was Larry Page, who spoke during dinner and impressed the CEOs with his remarkable mix of soaring ambition and personal humility. It was the first time he had talked publicly since creating Alphabet (a name, he said, that was chosen by Sergey Brin, without market testing.) The new company allows Google to build its successful search and software business while Alphabet makes big bets in far-flung fields like self-driving cars, radical life extension, global telecommunications, or pretty much anything Page gets excited about. Strategy as studied in business school means nothing to this CEO, who sees the world as a series of problems for him to solve.

 

“Companies have pretty bad reputations in the world,” Page explained. “It’s not like most people get up and say, ‘Oh, I wish I could go work for a company.’ They do it because they have to.”

 

So how do you change that?

 

“We’ve got to be more ambitious, we’ve got to do things that matter more to people, we’ve got to do less things that are zero sum gains, more things that really cause a lot of benefit.”

 

Is there any company out there that you look at that’s kind of what you want to be?

 

“Um, no.”

 

You can watch the full interview here. More to come today.

 

Alan Murray
@alansmurray
alan.murray@fortune.com

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