Google founder hopes to prove he’s ready to be CEO

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Google co-founder Larry Page is known for his vision, passion and intelligence.

Yet there is a fair amount of concern that Page’s other known traits _ his aloofness, rebellious streak and affinity for pursuing wacky ideas _ might lead the company astray. Page takes over as CEO on Monday as fast-rising rivals and tougher regulators threaten Google’s growth.

Investors used to Google Inc.’s consistency in exceeding financial targets worry that new leadership will bring more emphasis on long-term projects that take years to pay off. And many people still aren’t sure he has enough management skills to steer the Internet’s most powerful company.

Page already has learned that smarts alone won’t make him a great leader. Although Page impressed Google’s early investors with his ingenuity, they still insisted that he step down in 2001 as Google’s first CEO. He turned over the job to Eric Schmidt, a veteran executive who began working in Silicon Valley in the early 1980s while Page was still in grammar school.

Page’s admirers say that at 38, he is more mature and less apt to be chronically late to meetings or tune out of conversations that don’t stimulate his intellect _ habits that he fell into during his first stint as CEO.

“There are parts of being CEO that don’t fit Larry’s personality,” said Craig Silverstein, the first employee that Page and Google’s other founder, Sergey Brin, hired when they started the company in 1998. “You wear a lot of different hats when you’re CEO. Some of them are very interesting to Larry and some of them, presumably, are less interesting.”

True to his taciturn form, Page hasn’t said much publicly since Google made its stunning announcement in January that he will replace Schmidt as CEO. Google said Page wasn’t available for an interview.

Page, though, has left little doubt about his top priority: to dissolve the bureaucracy and complacency that accompanied the company’s rapid transformation into a 21st-century empire. Google is expected to end the year with more than 30,000 employees and $35 billion in annual revenue.

In Page’s mind, the 13-year-old company needs to return to thinking and acting like a feisty startup. Rising Internet stars such as Facebook, Twitter and Groupon, all less than 8 years old, are developing products that could challenge Google and make its dominance of Internet search less lucrative.

Page has drawn comparisons to two high-tech geniuses who are even more accomplished: Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates and Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs. Like those two pioneers in personal technology, Page invented and cultivated a product that changed the world.

But Page has yet to match them in this respect: as CEOs, Gates and Jobs brought out the best in the companies that they created, delighting stockholders as their investments soared.

Page doesn’t fit the CEO mold, even by the standards of Silicon Valley’s free-wheeling culture. He dropped out of graduate school at Stanford to start Google and doesn’t have a business degree.

Science and technology, though, seems to be in his DNA even though he grew up in Michigan, where automobiles rule.

His late father, Carl, was a computer scientist and pioneer in artificial intelligence, and his mother taught computer programming. Page began working on personal computers when he was just 6 years old in 1979, when home computers were a rarity. The geeky impulses carried into his adulthood, leading him to once build an inkjet printer out of Legos.

Page relishes challenging the status quo and encourages his employees to do so, too. Those who know Page suspect he picked up the anti-establishment mindset as a boy who attended Montessori schools, which discourage structured curricula and encourage independent activities.

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