Pinned in the doorway of Eric Schmidt’s snug corner office in Mountain View, Calif., is a comic strip that neatly sums up what the longtime Google chief executive wants you to know about himself and the company.
The cartoon, custom-created for Mr. Schmidt, shows Google’s technology rivals making supposed apologies. There’s Facebook ’s Mark Zuckerberg saying, “Sorry…but we’re still right.” Then there’s Apple Inc.’s Tim Cook saying, “You’re holding it wrong.” Finally, there’s Mr. Schmidt, who says, “We screwed up. Sorry.”
This is the Google way, perfected under Mr. Schmidt: high-minded, self-assured and a little smug.
Mr. Schmidt says that his approach is derived from the many lessons he learned from his late mentor, the Silicon Valley management guru Bill Campbell: “If you make a mistake, admit it, and do it right now. And if you didn’t make a mistake, don’t admit it.”
.. While it is now de rigueur for startup founders to take on formal mentors, Mr. Campbell was the beta version of the trend, personally counseling Mr. Schmidt, Steve Jobs, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and many other Silicon Valley stars. A former Columbia University football coach who became a wealthy tech executive and adviser, Mr. Campbell was known for getting through to type-A people who might otherwise struggle to think of themselves as part of a team.
Mr. Schmidt credits Mr. Campbell for talking him off the cliff when he threatened to quit Google early on after being asked to relinquish his title of chairman. “Your pride is getting in the way,” Mr. Campbell told him, Mr. Schmidt recalls.
Later, Mr. Campbell helped to soften Mr. Schmidt’s edges as a boss. “Like, for you, I’d say: ‘You’re the best writer I’ve met in your generation,’ ” Mr. Schmidt says, with considerable overstatement. “Then I’d read something and say, ‘Well, you missed something, you could do better.’ Notice how because I’ve praised you, now you want to be a better person.”
.. When asked about Apple founder Steve Jobs, with whom Mr. Schmidt had a public falling-out over Google’s development of rival mobile software, Mr. Schmidt diplomatically observes, “When Steve was upset, he was loud.” He hastens to add: “Steve was a good friend, and I miss him terribly.”
Mr. Schmidt’s arrival on the self-help circuit comes amid a tide of leadership missives from wealthy entrepreneurs. The hedge-fund billionaire Ray Dalio has spent more than a year evangelizing his book of “Principles,” which tells employees to argue with one another and rank each others’ performance in real time. Mr. Schmidt, who says he knows Mr. Dalio well, calls that approach “sort of the extreme.” He prefers to deliver hard feedback behind closed doors. He says that he steered clear of Wall Street early in his career because “it wasn’t forgiving…it wasn’t tolerant.”
There are several kinds of success stories. We emphasize the ones starring brilliant inventors and earnest toilers. We celebrate sweat and stamina. We downplay the schemers, the short cuts and the subterfuge. But for every ambitious person who has the goods and is prepared to pay his or her dues, there’s another who doesn’t and is content to play the con. In the Trump era and the Trump orbit, these ambassadors of a darker side of the American dream have come to the fore.
.. What a con Holmes played with Theranos. For those unfamiliar with the tale, which the journalist John Carreyrou told brilliantly in “Bad Blood,” she dropped out of Stanford at 19 to pursue her Silicon Valley dream, intent on becoming a billionaire and on claiming the same perch in our culture and popular imagination that Steve Jobs did. She modeled her work habits and management style after his. She dressed as he did, in black turtlenecks. She honed a phony voice, deeper than her real one.
She spoke, with immaculate assurance, of a day when it might be on everyone’s bathroom counter: a time saver, a money saver and quite possibly a lifesaver. She sent early, imperfect versions of it to Walgreens pharmacies, which used it and thus doled out erroneous diagnoses to patients. She blocked peer reviews of it and buried evidence of its failures.
This went on not for months but for years, as Holmes attracted more than $900 million of investment money and lured a breathtakingly distinguished board of directors including two former secretaries of state, George Shultz and Henry Kissinger; a former secretary of defense, William Perry; and a future secretary of defense, James Mattis. What they had before them wasn’t proof or even the sturdy promise of revolutionary technology. It was a self-appointed wunderkind who struck a persuasive pose and talked an amazing game.
She was eventually found out, and faces criminal charges that could put her in prison. But there’s no guarantee of that. Meantime she lives in luxury. God bless America.
Theranos was perhaps an outlier in the scope of its deceptions, but not in the deceptions themselves. In an article titled “The Ugly Unethical Underside of Silicon Valley” in Fortune magazine in December 2016, Erin Griffith tallied a list of aborted ventures with more shimmer and swagger than substance, asserting: “As the list of start-up scandals grows, it’s time to ask whether entrepreneurs are taking ‘fake it till you make it’ too far.”
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” … current distribution channels for the computer industry over the last several years have lost their ability to create demand. They can fulfill demand, but they can’t create it. If a new product comes out, you’re lucky if you can find somebody at the computer store that even knows how to demo it. So the more innovative the product is, the more revolutionary it is and not just an incremental improvement, the more you’re stuck [in getting people to try learn about it enough to try it out].”