In July 2001, Google was on the verge of its third birthday and had recently launched the AdWords advertising product, which would soon propel it into the stratosphere. The company had several hundred employees, including many software engineers working under Wayne Rosing, a former Apple and Sun executive who had joined the company six months earlier. Wayne wasn’t happy with the performance of his current set of managers. They were strong engineers, but not great managers. So he discussed his concerns with Larry and Sergey, and they came up with a somewhat radical idea that they brought to Eric. They would get rid of all the managers in the engineering organization. Wayne and Eric decided to call it a “disorg”: all those software engineers, reporting directly to Wayne.
During one of these conversations Bill mentioned to Larry that “we have to get some managers in here.” Larry was nonplussed. After all, he had just gotten rid of all the managers, and he was quite happy with that. Why does a company of several hundred employees, shipping a product that would eventually generate billions in revenue, need managers? Weren’t we doing better without them?
Yes, came the response.
“I want someone I can learn from, and someone to break ties.”
They chatted with several software engineers that night, and most of the responses were similar. These engineers liked being managed, as long as their manager was someone from whom they could learn something, and someone who helped make decisions. Bill was right! Although it took a while to convince the founders of this: Google engineering continued in “disorg” mode for more than a year. We finally called it quits and brought back people managers near the end of 2002.
To Bill, being an executive of a successful company is all about management, about creating operational excellence. As a manager and CEO, Bill was very good at making sure his teams delivered. He brought people together and created a strong team culture, but never lost sight of the fact that results mattered, and that they were a direct result of good management. “You have to think about how you’re going to run a meeting,” he told a group of Googlers in a management seminar. “How you’re going to run an operations review. You’ve got to be able to look at someone in a one-on-one and know how to help them course correct. People who are successful run their companies well. They have good processes, they make sure their people are accountable, they know how to hire great people, how to evaluate them and give them feedback, and they pay them well.”