On Aug. 15, Google announced it was acquiring Motorola Mobility for US$12.5 billion in cash. The company has cast the move as a play for patents, of which Motorola has plenty—somewhere in the neighbourhood of 24,000. It’s also getting 20,000 employees and 30% of Android’s U.S. marketshare.
A couple of weeks ago I had a chance to sit down with Google’s vice-president of corporate development, David Lawee, who heads up the company’s acquisitions, while he was in Toronto. Lawee is a Canadian and a successful entrepreneur in his own right, having co-founded gaming community Xfire, which sold to Viacom for $106 million in 2006. The University of Western Ontario and McGill alum also served as Google’s VP of marketing before being named to his current job in 2008. While most of our conversation revolved around start-ups, seeing as Monday’s deal was Google’s biggest acquisition ever, I thought I’d post a quick excerpt from our chat:
Canadian Business: What’s Google’s scouting system for finding the right companies to work with?
David Lawee: When things are working well, the people in their area [within Google] know who else is working in that space. That’s really where the best opportunities arise. If I’m working on developing mobile maps, I should know who else is working in mobile maps. If I’m in charge of local, I should know all the companies that are doing interesting things in local. That ends up being a great feeding and vetting system.
Other times, we just hear about things that others haven’t or are thinking of things others aren’t. Android was like that. No one was in charge of open source operating systems here in 2005. So you need to be thinking a bit out of the box to see how that can fit.
CB: How has your job changed over the past three years?
DL: Well, we’ve been very active. I started in this function in 2008, which wasn’t the best environment. In September 2009, we realized that we were in a good position, our business was strong and that we should be more forward leaning. That was when [then-CEO] Eric Schmidt said we’d be getting more active on the acquisition front. Google’s a bit like an ocean tanker, so once you start turning in one direction, things really start to move. We found more companies coming to us, as well as more people in-house with suggestions for opportunities, so instead of just a small team thinking about acquisitions, there were 28,000 employees thinking about the possibilities. The result was a lot of exciting things bubbling up from around the world.
CB: How much does your previous post as VP of marketing influence your job now?
DL: They’re really complementary, actually. In marketing, I got to visit every office and was involved with every product line. I was in the quarterly rhythm of the business. And without that perspective, it would be very difficult to do this job well. You’d be skimming the surface, but you wouldn’t really have the connections inside the business to know what’s a priority and what’s just nice to have. I’m trying to help the management team, and Larry in particular, decide what are the things we really should be doing and investing in. So having that in-depth sense of how the business functions in all parts of the world makes that a lot easier.