With nearly $70 billion in annual revenue, a market capitalization of more than $450 billion, and a stock trading at 31 times its price/earnings ratio, it will take very large bets on major breakthroughs to sustain Google's growth. Those bets don't turn into winners without enormous investment and the willingness to take big risks. Meanwhile, Google's investors are clamoring for greater transparency, which can lead to pressure to cut back on uncertain investments or create premature visibility. Google's leaders have the wisdom to know that size and creativity are inversely correlated, as witnessed so vividly in the demise of Hewlett-Packard's innovation machine. Thus, they are breaking the company into a collection of innovative organizations — some very large, some small — that provides their leaders the freedom to innovate without near-term financial constraints.
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Some pundits claim that greater visibility will stifle Google's innovations, which they term "unprofitable experiments." In reality, all research projects are "losers" until they succeed in the marketplace. These critics don't seem to understand the determination of Larry Page and his cohort of brilliant leaders to transform the world through innovation.
Nevertheless, I won't be surprised to see an activist investor like Dan Loeb or Nelson Peltz call for breaking up Alphabet in a few years into cash-generating Google and growth-generating Alphabet. Their inability to understand the integration of these two differentiated strategies for long-term shareholder value creation — the strategy we followed at Medtronic — never ceases to amaze me.
Other writers are comparing Alphabet to Warren Buffett's Berkshire-Hathaway. Other than both organizations being led by brilliant people, this comparison doesn't hold water. Buffett's genius is buying up traditional low-tech companies and running them well. He openly eschews innovation. Google is all about innovation.
Peter Sims, who co-authored "True North" with me, had a far better comparison: Today's high-tech leaders like Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Uber are platforms on which to build profitable business extensions off a solid core structure. On the other hand, Alphabet is a platform of platforms. While these platforms may be run independently in the near-term, I suspect that ultimately they will be integrated through the genius of Google's leaders.
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