Exclusive - Google CEO's inner circle: Meet the L Team
By Alexei Oreskovic | December 17, 2011 7:42 AM EST
The most powerful group at Google Inc used to be known simply as "The OC," short for operating committee. Now, it goes by a more telling name: "L Team," short for Larry's Team.
The change is more than a mere rebranding after Google co-founder Larry Page became chief executive nine months ago, reclaiming a title he last held in 2001. Page has moved quickly to remake the company in his image, and this influential group is responsible for plotting strategic priorities, such as social networking and mobile computing.
In the revamping of the group earlier this year, Page swapped out several of the executives who previously had seats at the table and brought in managers spearheading key initiatives.
Among the new members of Page's cabinet are social networking head Vic Gundotra, Android mobile chief Andy Rubin and YouTube head Salar Kamangar, according to people familiar with the matter.
Page meets regularly with the team, which is now internally called the L Team, to discuss, evaluate and approve their plans, from acquisitions to new products.
"All major decisions flow through that group," said one of the people, speaking anonymously because of the confidential nature of the topic.
The new team was appointed around the time that Page took over as CEO and reorganized the company's management structure. In addition to placing directors of key product groups under his direct supervision, and giving those groups more leeway to operate autonomously, Page transformed the operating committee into the L Team, a move not reported until now.
A Google representative declined to comment on the changes Page made to the team. The company also declined to make executives available for interviews.
The revamp is part of Page's efforts to make the world's No. 1 Web search engine more nimble and competitive amid a shifting technology landscape in which Google is increasingly battling heavyweights like Apple Inc and Facebook.
To make room for his new advisers, Page chose to remove some well-known and powerful executives from the inner circle instead of expanding it, according to the sources.
They said the executives who have left the group include Marissa Mayer, the head of Google's local, maps and location services business; Rachel Whetstone, its London-based global communications and public affairs chief; and Shona Brown, who previously oversaw business operations and now heads the company's philanthropic arm.
Mayer's membership within the group was particularly short-lived. The former head of Google's flagship search product and user experience was appointed to the operating committee in October 2010, roughly around the time she was assigned a new job overseeing Google's local business.
But she and other executives Page moved out of his inner circle were not completely sidelined, the sources said. Mayer still has a "huge job," said another person familiar with the matter. Whetsone was promoted to senior vice president in April.
The changes to the group reflect the shifting influence within Google's top ranks, said first source, who added that changes were natural with a new CEO in place.
"I think Larry was thoughtful about how he approached this, and I don't know of too many bruised egos. Some change is expected to happen when the power centre shifts," the source said.
Page did retain some members of the original "OC," including finance chief Patrick Pichette, Chief Business Officer Nikesh Arora and Chief Legal Officer David Drummond.
It was unclear if Eric Schmidt, who ended his 10-year stint as CEO to become Google's executive chairman, and co-founder Sergey Brin have formal roles on the L Team.
Schmidt is often travelling as part of his new role, while Brin focuses on advanced research projects that are less directly related to the day-to-day business.
Founded by Page and Brin in 1998, Google has grown into a corporate behemoth, with roughly $29 billion (18 billion pounds) in revenue last year and nearly $43 billion in cash and securities on its balance sheet as of the end of September.
While Google has dominated Internet searching for a decade, the company has struggled to find its footing in social networking, with Facebook, Twitter and other start-ups stealing Web traffic and engineering talent.
Under Page's watch, Google has launched its most ambitious challenge to Facebook's social networking dominance with the Google+ social network.
In August, Google said it would acquire mobile phone company Motorola Mobility Inc for $12.5 billion, a deal that allows Google to add hardware capabilities to its Android smartphone software.
At the same time, Page has pruned the company's sprawling portfolio of products, eliminating projects involving green energy and health among others, even as headcount has swelled to more than 31,000 employees.
"More wood behind fewer arrows" is how Page described his approach, when speaking to analysts on a conference call this summer.
"Focus and prioritization are crucial given our amazing opportunities," he said, noting that Google had substantially increased its "velocity and execution" with its new management structure.
(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by Peter Lauria and Steve Orlofsky)