Just as "Google" is a play on the math term "googol," Eric Schmidt '76, CEO and Chairman of the rapidly expanding Internet search engine, plays on the typical corporate atmosphere.
Schmidt, a Virginia native, is the "classic math and science type" with a penchant for science fiction, New Age music and lava lamps.
"I was a hardcore programmer from age 14," he said. Schmidt boasts that the "largest collection of lava lamps in the United States" illuminates the Googleplex in Mountain View, Calif. "I didn't know lava lamps were so important until I joined Google," Schmidt said.
Schmidt — an electrical engineering major at the University — described the unique features of Google's clean interface, lack of spam and "search-only" priority.
"Isn't this neat?" he asked with a zeal that can only be born of a life devoted to driving technological projects such as the adoption of Java by users worldwide and the development of Sun Microsystems — two projects Schmidt worked on. "We do search and we do it the best in the world," Schmidt said.
Instead of mentioning his own 20-year experience in software development, management and marketing, Schmidt boasted of the talents of the 50 Ph.D.s on hand at Google who invented and refined the information retrieval algorithms that group and sort the web pages during a search.
"I just work here. These people are very smart," he said with a chuckle.
"I wouldn't have gotten the job as CEO if I weren't as technical as I am," Schmidt continued. "But I'm still earning some of the technology. I know how companies are supposed to run. My managerial experience helps me do the job," he said.
Schmidt's coworkers praised his technological expertise and pragmatic outlook.
"He is an industry veteran with a pedigree of amazing success," Google's Director of Corporate Communications David Krane said. Krane described working with Schmidt as "inspiring" be-cause of the contact employees at every level have with the head of their company.
"Eric provides perspective that many employees haven't had before," Krane said, adding that many of the company's employees have spent most of their lives crunching numbers in academia.
"Eric's most valuable role at the company has been his ability to keep employees in touch with the real world, even if they haven't spent much time in the real world," Krane said.
Schmidt's brand of leadership is hands on. On a typical day, Schmidt begins work at 10 a.m. and usually leads a staff meeting outlining the key projects regarding the management of the site.
"I handle the tactical stuff, such as 'Do we want to buy more computers or wait until next week until the prices go down?'" he said.
After the staff and operations meetings, Schmidt is commonly seen advising or chatting with one of the 317 employees over the lunch or dinner table. Google offers complimentary gourmet lunches and dinners for all employees, a program Schmidt insists upon to promote company togetherness and communication.
Schmidt also organizes and attends company ski trips to Lake Tahoe, movie outings and the company Halloween celebration.
"Google is the only company I've been in where everyone attends," Schmidt said of the Halloween costume party. "One guy brought his sex doll and one fella came spreading anthrax . . . I thought that was inappropriate."
Schmidt compares working at Google to returning to the "Princeton lifestyle," eagerly promoting a similar energetic and youthful togetherness.
"Google is a perfect cultural fit for Eric," Krane said. "We're not burdened by the bureaucracy of other corporations."
The culture Schmidt promotes at Google is founded not only in fun, but also in innovation to steer the company through this period of unprecedented expansion.
"Google is a pretty hot company, and the challenges all have to do with managing the group," he said, mentioning that a company can lose its core focus while expanding.
For Schmidt, the other challenge in being an internationally recognized CEO is a personal one.
"There's a loss of privacy being a public CEO," he said. "It has to do with the personalization of business over the last 10 to 20 years. There has to be a limit to the level of public exposure you want. There's a value to the anonymity in living your own life the way you want to live it."
Schmidt looks back on his Princeton years fondly and values the lessons he learned in and out of the classroom and his close relationships with professors.
"I wouldn't be here today if professors hadn't noticed me as having some potential," he said. "Princeton focused on politics and governance and all of those things helped round me out and helped me professionally. Hanging out with all of those people rubbed off on me. The early UNIX work is not what I use today."
Many of Schmidt's social memories are from playing backgammon in the lobby of Colonial Club, where he served as an officer. Other memories were not quite as tame — the drinking age was 18 at the time.
Schmidt chose Princeton over technical schools like MIT because of its liberal arts offerings. "Princeton just had the right karma," he said.
Schmidt also didn't expect to be involved in business and advises people to take advantage of such "positive surprises."
"I wanted to be an astronaut because that was a sexy thing," he said.
Working for NASA, however, was not in the stars for Schmidt, and neither was architecture. He decided that he was "a bad architect and a better engineer." Schmidt confessed that he opted to work in the computer sciences because computer clusters were the only air-conditioned rooms during the humid New Jersey summers.
Schmidt recently returned to campus for his 25th reunion and noticed how the University has changed since his graduation.
"It's a more egalitarian place," he said. "Over the past 25 years, Princeton has become more Americacratic. It's open to the best and brightest from around the world. It used to have a distinctly greater New York feel to it, and women had just arrived. There were four men to every woman — and all the men were aware of that."
Most people claim that Schmidt is too nice to be a CEO. His relaxed sincerity and sense of adventure seem out of place in today's world of cutthroat Internet corporations. But as Schmidt says, "take advantage of positive surprises."