Google Inc. Chief Executive Officer Larry Page speaks affectionately of fellow billionaire Warren Buffett’s approach to business. With the decision to restructure the Internet-search giant, Page is putting Buffett’s influence into practice.
Page on Monday said he’s restructuring Google so that all units outside its main Web businesses like search, advertising, YouTube and mobile software will be broken off and run independently. Page will be CEO of the new holding company, called Alphabet Inc., while longtime deputy Sundar Pichai will become CEO of Google. Google Ventures, research lab Google X, thermostat maker Nest and life sciences company Calico are among those to be owned by Alphabet and managed separately.
The new structure takes a page from Buffett, 84, whose Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is a holding company for disparate businesses ranging from insurance and railroads to running shoes and ice cream. In the past five decades, he’s built one of the largest businesses in the world by eschewing fads, buying when others sell, and taking a long-term approach to investing. Through 2014, Berkshire averaged annual returns of almost 22 percent, more than double the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.
“They look at Warren as a hero and Berkshire as a template,” said Steve Wallman, a Middleton, Wisconsin-based money manager who has invested in Berkshire since 1982 and bought stock in Apple Inc. in late 2003. He’s not a Google shareholder, but says he wishes he were.
Fellow executives in the technology industry also noted the similarities to Berkshire.
“Google’s Alphabet sounds like a 21st-century Berkshire Hathaway, but with a lot of very large venture bets,” Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn Corp., said on Twitter.
In a letter to potential shareholders in 2004 ahead of Google’s initial public offering, Page and co-founder Sergey Brin quoted Buffett when outlining the company’s long-term focus.
“Much of this was inspired by Warren Buffett’s essays in his annual reports and his ‘An Owner’s Manual’ to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders,” the letter said, in the lone footnote at the bottom of the statement.
A hallmark of Buffett’s approach has been to let management teams run their units independently. Under Page’s structure for the newly created Alphabet, Pichai takes over as CEO of Google; former Apple executive Tony Fadell leads Nest, which Google purchased for $3.2 billion in 2014; and former Genentech Inc. CEO Art Levinson is leading Calico.