Is Google's Larry Page Already Turning Out to Be a Truly Great CEO?

As Other Tech Chiefs Stumble, Google's Famously Introverted Co-Founder Quietly Inspires

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Facebook pretty much sucked all the air out of the internet last week -- at least the part of the internet dominated by tech blogs that ran a zillion speculative posts in advance of Facebook's F8 developers' conference, and then another zillion or two post-game.

Larry Page, all grown up.
Larry Page, all grown up.

But I bet there's one person who didn't mind Facebook's turn in the white-hot spotlight: Google CEO Larry Page. For one thing, much of the spin leading up to F8 was that Facebook is in defensive, throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks mode. As Mike Elgan put it in a widely-shared Sept. 15 Datamation column titled "Why Facebook is the new Yahoo," Facebook's current strategy "appears to be: Just copy Google+.... This copying of Google+ and integration with third-party services smacks of desperation and lack of vision. All these scattershot changes erode Facebook's identity, and make the service even more complex and confusing."

Meanwhile, over at Google, Page -- who is coming up on his six-month anniversary as Eric Schmidt's successor -- has had laser-like focus on both reviving Google's entrepreneurial culture and strengthening its core businesses. Early on in his tenure he made social-media integration (that 's the real value of fledgling Google+) a major priority (see also: Google's announcement at Ad Age 's Digital West conference last week that ads distributed on Google's Display Ad Network will soon include +1 buttons) along with extending Google's reach in mobile (see: Google's gutsy, controversial acquisition of Motorola Mobility, not to mention its launch last week of Google Wallet).

But almost as striking is the extent to which Page has brought clarity to Google in announcing the shutdown of Google Labs, Aardvark, Slide, Fast Flip and other side projects that were offering little or no return on resource investment. Meanwhile, Google has been rolling out subtle, smart user-interface streamlining of its remaining suite of products, from Google Docs to the publishing back-end for Blogger.

Since Page took Google's reins in April, the pace of change and innovation at the company has been truly breathtaking. Think about it: Is there any tech company other than Apple that is firing on as many cylinders as Page's Google? Remember that Eric Schmidt was brought onboard as CEO 10 years ago by Google co-founders Page and Sergey Brin to be the "adult" in the room (it's hard to imagine, but Google was just a toddler -- 3 years old -- in 2001, and Page and Brin were both just 28). But in less than six months at the reins, Larry Page has shown a level of decisiveness and leadership that I don't think anybody saw coming from the famously nerdy introvert.

Showmanship doesn't come naturally to him -- he annoyed Wall Street by speaking just a few minutes on his very first earnings call as CEO -- but he may have exactly the right sort of communication skills needed within Google, given the way it's structured. As Ad Age Digital Editor Michael Learmonth put it to me last week, "It would be fascinating if what we learn from Google is an entirely new style of executive leadership that actually works for tech," citing Page's need to interact effectively with the power-geek "mini-Larry" types that loom large at the company, including YouTube boss Salar Kamangar and product-management/engineering chief Susan Wojcicki.

Google has huge challenges ahead of it: The long-term success of Google+ is by no means assured, it's mired in an ongoing Android patent battle with Oracle and it's facing rising antitrust scrutiny in the U.S., Europe and Asia. But when you look around at the tech-CEO landscape -- especially in the wake of Carol Bartz's ouster at Yahoo and Reed Hastings' baffling moves at Netflix -- who else could you imagine steering Google's ship better than (surprise, surprise) Larry Page?

Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. Follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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