Google Preparing For Big Brain Drain?

When it comes to Google say it with me: Here we go again! The company is getting ready to celebrate another key milestone in August: its 3rd anniversary as a publicly traded company. Sure there will be the usual partying (especially if the stock keeps performing as it is today and stays above the nose-bleed $500 a share. (It opened at $85 three years ago, August 19.)

But three years is a magic number for another reason. Employees still holding pre-IPO shares will be completely vested on August 19. And there's a significant worry that these sudden millionaires will run for the exits as soon as they're able. That's a problem for two key reasons. One: Google could suddenly lose hundreds of key employees. And Two: A big flood of Google shares could suddenly hit the market.

Piper Jaffray for one says "hundreds of employees" will be able to cash out an average $6.5 million. Other analysts estimate that the pre-IPO shares are worth about $3 billion today. That's a healthy chunk of change, but likely not enough to retire on, at least not here in the Silicon Valley. But because it "might" be, and because Google can't afford to lose workers -- even if it's hiring more than 1,500 every quarter -- it's a problem the company has to deal with.

So, even though Google's now a global giant, worth more than 150-billion dollars now, how do you motivate employees not just to work, but to keep working even when they don't have to? Many say it's the company's unique culture that prevents a kind of brain-drain.

"It's a Utopian place to work," says Craig Silverstein, director of technology, and Employee #1 at the company."

"Our culture is one that promotes and encourages creative ideas," says Stacy Sullivan, Google's chief officer of culture.

Officer of Culture? Are you kidding me? I guess if Jerry Yang is Chief Yahoo at the company he co-founded, an "Officer of Culture" isn't such a wacky title. And if it means keeping Google's most important resource happy, and under one roof, then it's anything but!

"This role has the most important ingredient to our success," says Sullivan. "If we continue to foster our culture that encourages cooperation and teamwork, that is going to create more ideas and more creativity."

So, to keep that culture going, it's all about the perks, legendary in the business and well reported.

"There are so many benefits, I don't even know how to begin," says Google employee Amber Issa.

I do. How about: In-cube massage chairs, or a bar in the office? No problem. Cash bonuses, stock options, car washes, sand volleyball courts, games, exercise facilities, free breakfast, lunch and dinner from corporate America's ultimate commissary. Maybe the industry's ultimate "brain food."

"The theory was they were going to have a culture of not just smart people, but brilliant people," says Roger McNamee, a venture capitalist at Elevation Partners who reminds us that Google had a cafeteria with free food for employees when there was only 24 workers there.

Still, there's a huge number of "brilliant people" who are about to cash in. Something some on the Street say has largely been priced into the company's shares and shouldn't come as a shock when and if it happens in August.

"The average Google employee who has the opportunity to cash out will be worth an additional $6.5 million," Gene Munster at Piper Jaffray tells me. "So, most of them enjoy working at Google just for the love of the game so we don't think there will be a brain drain based on that."

He does expect a big number of shares to hit the market suddenly which could lead to some weakness in Google shares just ahead of the event. That, he says, is a buying opportunity. "This typically has a near-term negative impact on the stock going into the event as investors continue to anticipate this. The stock will sell off on anticipation. When the actual stock and shares hit the market, it usually doesn't have the negative effect on stock. By that point, investors are well aware of what's coming on to the market," says Munster. "We think this will probably be a buying opportunity given Google continues to increase its dominance in the search space and we think investors are looking for any opportunity to get Google on sale and this might be that opportunity."

"Our huge challenge is like that for every tech company: to stay relevant," says Silverstein. "That is true for Google as well. Will we be able to rise to the challenge? We got the talents, we got the insight, we got the willingness to try out new things." Which seems like a recipe to withstand another round of big cash-outs.

Meantime, the company hopes its attention to culture, a stock that keeps climbing, and its global brand name are all enough to keep workers from running for the exits.

Questions? Comments?