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Into the Mystique of Google

You know you’ve arrived when the name of your company becomes a verb, as in, “Google it.”

If you’re like most of the rest of the world, you use Google’s dominant search engine every day to navigate the Internet. Few companies reach the status Google has attained, both in terms of business success and the whole mystique that surrounds this company.

As you may have seen, I was fortunate to host a CNBC special that premiered last week called Inside the Mind of Google. (If you missed it, you can catch it a few more times in December. Click here for the schedule.) I’ve covered a lot of companies in my 20 years in the financial news business, but Google is one of the most fascinating.

A Culture of Innovation

You know the story. This fabled company was the brainchild of two former Stanford University grad students, Sergey Brin and Larry Page. In just 10 years, it has not only dominated the search industry, it has become of the most important technology companies in the world.

Search companies are famous for keeping their algorithms secret, and if they were available, most of us wouldn’t understand them anyway. But beyond the technical success, Google is renowned for its culture, the way it treats its employees and the groundbreaking innovation that is bred in such a culture.

Google Headquarters
AP
Google Headquarters

To prepare for the special, I made several visits to company headquarters in Mountain View, California, and you can feel the culture just walking through the hallways and seeing some of the well-known perks – free food prepared by gourmet chefs, massages, a gym, pool tables, the legendary lava lamps, and more.

A big part of it is just plain fun. Employees are asked so spend 20% of their time exploring new and different ideas that may not even fall under their normal job description, all in the name of innovation. One of the coolest things was the most elaborate toy marble machine you’ll ever see built by some of the Google employees. (You can see a clip here.)

The company’s history of innovation makes it fascinating to hear what’s next for Google. It recently acquired You Tube, and I’m sure you’ve heard about the Android phone. It was also interesting to hear CEO Eric Schmidt talk about robots. Another area Google is working on is language translation in our increasingly connected world.

Spreading the Google Mindset

I remember well when Google went public a little over five years ago at $100 a share. Skeptics, and there were many, thought that was too much for a company that wasn’t well understood. The stock eventually went over $700 before getting knocked down in the recession. But over the five years it has been public, it has outperformed the S%P 500 roughly 450% to 0%.

Clark Winter, Chief Investment Officer at SK Capital Partners, tells me in the just-released December issue of Wall Streetthat Google is a clear example of a company that doesn’t “try to solve problems of the past but rather unleash and harness opportunities of the future.”

In fact, Clark said, we need a Google-like mindset in the energy and health care industries to solve some of the problems there. He believes a Google will be born in both industries, something we’ll all be interested in as citizens and investors.

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Questions? Comments? Write toinvestoragenda@cnbc.com