Google is at the top of its game, and its chief executive, Larry Page, is pursuing a growing number of ambitious “moon shots” that could transform transportation, medicine, the Internet itself, and more. Page’s intensity of purpose and his company’s GOOG 1.13% stellar financial results earned him recognition as Businessperson of the Year in Fortune. (See the cover story of our Dec. 1, 2014 issue, “Larry Page–The most ambitious CEO in the universe.”)
In a wide-ranging interview ahead of the article’s publication, Page discussed with Fortune why dominant technology companies fade and how Google hopes to evade that fate, among other things. Here are a few excerpts of his words from that interview, edited for clarity.
On why dominant tech companies fail:
I’m always asking the question, as the company has grown from a hundred people, “Would I want to work for Google?” I think in general the answer is “yes.” Part of my focus has also been making sure that we’re creating an environment for people who want to ask those questions and want to be curious and want to be entrepreneurial and want to do things that are really impactful for the world.
If I look at most of the tech companies that I felt have kind of reached a plateau or have generally atrophied or something like that, I would say “no,” they weren’t a good home for people who wanted to do those things. In general they kind of kept doing the same thing, kind of eking out a little bit more scale but not really being a place where people want to continue to really do impactful things.
On how Google’s fabled moonshots—self driving cars, nano-particles for cancer detection—fit into the arc of the company:
It doesn’t feel all that different than it’s felt before to me in the past. I remember when we started Gmail. Everyone was upset with us, including people in the company, like, “Why are we working on email? We’re a search company.” [We were] less than two hundred and fifty people I think when we started Gmail, and we were talking about that even before that. I think that was pretty ambitious, given the scale of the company.
So given that we have forty thousand people now [Google employs about 55,000 people, actually. —Ed.], the fact that we’re working on the [self-driving] car doesn’t feel that ambitious to me.
On seizing the opportunity in mobile:
I think my job as CEO, it’s always to be pushing people ahead. If I were to look at the percentage of people [working] on mobile, it’s not 100% in the company. And nor should it be 100%. But it should probably be larger than it is.
I think externally if you asked people on the Street, they’re going to worry mostly about monetization [on mobile]. And I think we’re doing pretty well there. There’s always more work to be done. I think that search is working well on mobile, the ads on search are working well on mobile.
But the work at this stage is probably more disruptive in nature too. We really need to say, “Well, if you’re on mobile, maybe it’s easier to call someplace, or it’s easier to visit the place, or it’s easier to have help with those things.” So maybe the ads should look a little different or work differently.