4. Google Team - Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Eric Schmidt

Internet and media disruptors

Benjamin Wachenje
"The amazing thing is that we’re a part of people’s daily lives, like brushing their teeth." -Larry Page

Larry Page
Co-founder and CEO, Google
Born:
March 26, 1973, East Lansing, Mich.
Education: Bachelor's in computer engineering, University of Michigan; master's in computer science, Stanford University

Sergey Brin
Co-founder, Google
Born:
Aug. 21, 1973, Moscow
Education: Bachelor's in computer science, University of Maryland; master's in computer science, Stanford University

Eric Schmidt
Executive chairman, Google
Born:
April 27, 1955, Washington
Education: Bachelor's in electrical engineering, Princeton University; master's and Ph.D. in computer science, University of California, Berkeley

You know a company has deep cultural impact when its name turns into a verb. And googling has become, as co-founder Larry Page said, "part of people's lives, like brushing your teeth."

Google has changed how content is distributed and consumed. It has enabled audiences to create and interact with content as never before (think YouTube and Google Maps mashups). It has become the gatekeeper of content and key to its popularity; websites live or die by their Google page rank.

We have included Google's founders, Page and Sergey Brin, and Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt as a trio on our anniversary list of the 25 most transformative leaders, icons and rebels of the past quarter-century. It would be impossible to disentangle their collective contribution to Google's disruption of advertising, print publishing, broadcast and cable TV, motion pictures, mobile telephony and computer software and hardware makers. And they have done it while making Google a moneymaking and innovation machine without peer.

Google changed the game not because it did search first but because it did it so well. It also had a better business model for digital information. Owning the entry point to information and selling ads against it proved far more profitable than obtaining and owning content, as Internet media pioneers AOL and Yahoo and traditional print publishers did before Google.

The more dominant Google became in search, the more data about users it could mine for hidden correlations that made its advertising business even more valuable. Google now has total revenue of $40 billion a year, overwhelmingly derived from advertising sales via Adwords (ads on its own sites) and Adsense (which lets hundreds of thousands of websites and blogs make money by displaying contextual Google ads). Google's ad revenues are twice that of every newspaper in the U.S. combined.

"Fast learners win." -Eric Schmidt

The fire hose of income has given Page, Brin and Schmidt the wherewithal to take Google beyond search. It has entered a vast range of products and services from email to cloud computing, mobile and apps. All these leverage Google's infrastructure and systems engineering expertise and its extensive use of data to develop products. Not all have been successful, though. The struggles of Google Video prompted the purchase of YouTube; Facebook, not Google+, owns social networks. But hits such as Gmail, the Android operating system and Google Maps have spawned their own ecosystems.

Google, which says its mission is to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," has also made missteps in areas such as privacy, copyright and censorship in China. Page and Brin view societal issues as engineering problems to be solved, usually by the freer flow of information—which is not how the real-world owners of that information always see it.

"We want Google to be the third half of your brain." -Sergey Brin

The two founded Google while they were Ph.D. students at Stanford. Page's parents were computer science professors at Michigan State University, and Brin's father was a Russian mathematician who had taken the family out of the U.S.S.R. Page's idea was to index the information on the Web and to rank the most relevant pages using their back links—the equivalent of judging the authority of academic papers by the quality and quantity of their citations.

When Page started the project in 1996, the Web comprised an estimated 10 million pages. The complexity and scale of crawling it drew Brin to his friend's undertaking. Google now crawls 30 trillion Web pages. The pair incorporated as a private company in 1998 after securing $100,000 from investor Andy Bechtolsheim. Novell CEO Schmidt joined in 2001 to run the business and to be a counterweight to the managerial inexperience of its then 20-something founders. The trio took Google public in 2004.

Page and Brin collectively own 16 percent of Google's stock, sufficient to make each worth $30 billion, according to Bloomberg's reckoning. Schmidt owns 2 percent of the company. That, along with his two venture capital firms, has garnered him $8.7 billion.

Schmidt returned day-to-day management to Page in 2011 after 10 years at the helm but remains chairman. Brin stepped down as head of technology to lead special projects—one being the robotics laboratory. Driven by Page's maxim of doing everything 10 times better than the competition, Google believes in shipping new products often and early, and letting users help iterate them. Its known moon-shot projects include an artificial brain, wearable computers and driverless cars. Who can guess what else is brewing in its secret labs?

Some technological innovation, legal event or regulatory change will inevitably shake up the Internet again. Page, Brin and Schmidt are vulnerable, as Google is dependent on a single, if highly profitable, business: advertising. But they also are well-positioned, as they've been able to subsidize their search for the Next Big Thing.

In the end, it may be that the winner is the one with the most data. For better and worse, that would be Google.

Google: Company highlights

  • Original search engine research project was called BackRub
  • "Google'" is a corruption of googol (10 to the power of 100); the domain name googol.com was taken
  • Bypassed Wall Street investment banks as much as possible by using a Dutch auction for its IPO
  • Lets employees spend 20 percent of work time on projects they are passionate about, regardless of the relevance to Google
  • Page and Schmidt invested in Planetary Resources, an asteroid-mining company

Read MoreFULL LIST: CNBC FIRST 25

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