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Eric Schmidt on managing Google

The former Google CEO discusses his approach to hiring and retaining talent.

Google is one of the most successful companies of the past decade, and part of the credit goes to former CEO Eric Schmidt, who filled the role for 10 years before stepping down to become executive chairman last January. Schmidt, a seasoned technology executive, was brought to Google in 2001 to provide adult supervision to what was then an unruly start-up. Under his watch, the company grew to be a giant with US$30 billion in annual revenue.

Schmidt recently attended a conference organized by McKinsey and Co., and discussed a range of issues with McKinsey director James Manyika. The entire video of the talk is here, but the most interesting portions of the presentation involved Schmidt’s approach to managing, hiring and retaining talent.

On hiring: “We worked very, very hard on who’s going to be in our company. And we spent more time, and pretty ruthlessly, on academic qualifications, intelligence, intellectual flexibility, passion and commitment. What bothers me about management books is they all say this stuff generically, but nobody does it.”

On interviewing: “We would allow people to have an arbitrary number of interviews. It got to the point where people were being interviewed 15, 16, 17 times, and being turned down. Eventually, by fiat, I ordered that it be taken down to eight. And we’ve since statistically modeled that you can get a probabilistically correct outcome at five interviews.”

On managing employees: “They don’t need me. They’re going to do it anyway, because they’re driven. They have that passion. They’re going to do it for their whole lives. It’s everything they ever wanted. And, oh yeah, maybe they could use a little help from me. That’s the kind of person you want. At Google, we give the impression of not managing the company, because we don’t, really.”

On meetings: “If you have a meeting and you have a consensus without disagreement, you have nothing. Basically, what I would try to do in a meeting is I would see if everyone agreed, and I would try to get some controversy. If you get one person to say something, then the person who is shy or a little concerned about saying it will then speak up. And then you have a real conversation.”