During his swing through Cambridge this week, Eric Schmidt sat down with "On Point" host Tom Ashbrook for an on-stage interview at MIT's Kresge Auditorium. The event was organized in honor of Michael Hammer, the late MIT professor, author, and management guru who died last September.
Ashbrook tried to conduct a wide-ranging interview with Schmidt, talking about everything from Google's book search project to the business problems of traditional media to Google's vast data centers. Ashbrook didn't get much from Schmidt other that his stock public-company-CEO responses: turns out that while Android is great, iPhone is the dominant smartphone today. Google runs "some number of relatively large data centers." Wow.
Schmidt has a wry sense of humor, but his dominant mode is that of the ultra-logical Vulcan engineer: every problem (or answer to a probing question) can be deconstructed and solved if you are smart enough. (In the pic, Schmidt is at center talking after the event with Rich Miner, the Cambridge exec who runs Google Ventures and helped develop the Android operating system for mobile phones.)
By the end of the event, I found myself wishing that someone with a deeper background in management, innovation, and corporate culture had been chosen to interview Schmidt, to really get at what is so novel about the way Google works as a company (and what challenges it really faces.) Clay Christensen from Harvard Business School would've been perfect -- he appeared in a video tribute to Hammer that was shown -- or Michael Cusumano of MIT. I do enjoy Ashbrook's show on WBUR, but he wasn't the right guy for this particular job.
But the questions from the audience were excellent (it was, as you might suspect, a smart crowd of Hammer's old friends and neighbors), and there were these two great quotes from Schmidt toward the end of the event:
"We are early in the [era of] creative destruction [wrought by] the Internet, which isn't good news to the people who are fighting it."
Asked by an audience member about how Google thinks about competing with Microsoft, and whether Schmidt is a little bit scared of Steve Ballmer, Schmidt said, "We at Google don't really focus on our competitors. We think you should focus on what you do best, and do it better than anybody else. I worry about our own non-performance more than I do Microsoft or Yahoo or other competitors."
(Xconomy has this thorough report on a roundtable with journos that Schmidt participated in later in the day at Google's Kendall Square offices.)
About Scott Kirsner
Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.
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