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Google Cloud’s New Boss on Engineering Google into Enterprise Products (While Keeping Engineering Mindsets Out)

April 10, 2019, 9:32 PM UTC

It’s been about three months since Thomas Kurian took over as Google’s new cloud computing chief, replacing long-time Silicon Valley veteran Diane Greene.

Kurian has the tough task of steering Google’s cloud computing business unit amid competition from larger rivals like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft, as well as legacy enterprise giants like IBM and Oracle, his previous company for more than two decades.

For years, the search giant has been struggling to change the perception that it doesn’t know how to sell enterprise technology to businesses. Google’s hope is that Kurian and his experience at Oracle will boost the company’s reputation in the enterprise sector and lift sales.

In an interview with Fortune during Google’s annual Cloud Next conference in San Francisco, Kurian denied that Google doesn’t know how to sell to enterprises. “You just have to reiterate your position and be calm about it,” he said.

When it comes to enterprise sales, Google may be a victim of its own online ad and search engine success. “Sometimes people look at a person who’s acted in a role and think that’s the only thing the person does, because they were so successful,” Kurian said.

But similarly, it’s likely some who associate Kurian with Oracle may think Google will adopt some of the database giant’s hardball sales tactics when approaching customers. But that’s not necessarily so, says Kurian.

“I was on the product side at Oracle, not necessarily on the go-to-market side,” he said. “You learn a lot on what companies do well, and you learn what companies don’t do well. And so you bring the best and you leave behind the things you don’t necessarily agree with.”

Kurian said he’s been doing “a lot of recruiting” for new Google Cloud executives during his first few months on the job. He wants more executive hires akin to former Carnegie Mellon University dean of computer science Andrew Moore, who became Google Cloud’s head of artificial intelligence in late 2018.

Former Oracle executive Amit Zavery was recruited to head Google Cloud’s Apigee unit, and started the new job in March. Google chief financial officer Ruth Porat also helped find and hire a new Google Cloud finance executive, Steffan Tomlinson, who was previously the CFO of security firm Palo Alto Networks, Kurian said. Tomlinson began working at Google in April.

Reiterating an earlier claim that Google Cloud has embarked on a salesperson-hiring spree, Kurian said the company hopes to get experts specializing in fields like finance or healthcare to target companies in their respective areas.

Looking ahead, Google enterprise customers can expect more and better integration with the company’s other services, Kurian said. In his short tenure, he has also been busy familiarizing himself with the search giant’s other product teams, like those in charge of Google Maps, Google Assistant, and the company’s various Chrome-based hardware products.

For instance, Google debuted on Wednesday a new feature that lets Google Cloud customers use Android-based smartphones as security keys for their corporate accounts. Also, Google Cloud’s search feature now can find information on third-party services, including Salesforce, SAP, and SharePoint.

“A lot of the technology we have in other parts of Google apply to enterprise,” he said.

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But perhaps Kurian’s biggest task at Google will be pushing the company’s employees to understand the wants and needs of other businesses, in order to craft products that meet its customers’ needs.

Google has an engineering-led workplace culture, in which computer scientists set the direction for the company’s next big product push or internal feature.

So it may come as a culture shock for some workers to shift attention from cutting edge A.I. initiatives to focus on building mundane, but important IT tools for older businesses, like identity access management products.

In fact, Google did announce newer identity access-management tools during its cloud event, and the company is increasingly debuting unexciting-but-crucial cloud-delivered IT products conventional businesses need. Still, the company is playing catch-up here; rivals Amazon and Microsoft have a long head start in offering these kinds of cloud-based IT services.

And in this sense, Kurian may be less inclined to adopt techniques from his former employer Oracle to capture the attention of businesses. He may have to adopt the business tactics of Amazon and Microsoft, instead.

Story updated to reflect Moore joining Google in late 2018, along with start dates of new executive recruits.