But even the best leaders make mistakes, and Schmidt is no exception.
Here are 10 things that he could have done better.
Appearing unconcerned about privacy
Schmidt often stumbled when talking about privacy, with statements like “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place” (on CNBC) and “We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about” (in an interview with The Atlantic). He also said on CNN (NYSE:TWX) that people who didn’t like their homes photographed by Google’s Street View cameras could “just move.”
Letting the founders bypass him — and talking about it.
Schmidt sometimes gave the impression he wasn’t really in charge, like when he told an audience last December that he didn’t want Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) to do a browser or an operating system, but Larry Page and Sergey Brin went around him and started the Chrome project anyway.
Not anticipating that Steve Jobs would be furious about Android
In 2007, Schmidt reportedly got chewed out by Steve Jobs when word leaked that Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) was working with HTC on an Android phone. The surprising part: apparently Schmidt didn’t expect Jobs to be angry. Eventually, the companies’ increasing competition in mobile got Schmidt kicked off Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) board.
Asking Google’s search team to bury info about a political donation.
Early during his tenure at Google, Schmidt asked the search team to bury a search result about a political donation, according to Steven Levy’s upcoming book, “In The Plex.” He was told “no way.” (Schmidt has since denied the incident happened.)
Failing to close the Groupon buy.
Image: AP Photo
Some small businesses are taking part of their search advertising budget and moving it into daily deals sites like Groupon instead. Google saw the trend and wanted into the daily deals business so badly that it bid $6 billion for Groupon, but Groupon refused and the deal broke down last December.
Not buying Twitter when it was still cheap.
Another deal that got away: Google tried to buy Twitter several times last year, offering prices between $2.5 and $10 billion, but could not close the deal. The purchase could have kick-started Google’s social efforts, but instead Google is starting from scratch with +1.
Image: Associated Press
This has been a problem for years. In 2006, Google paid $900 million for the right to power search on MySpace — just as it was about to be eclipsed by Facebook.In 2007, Google let Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) outbid it to take a small stake in Facebook at a $15 billion valuation, which seemed crazy at the time but now looks cheap. Now Bing is using Facebook’s social information to improve its search results, while Google is having to build its own social search features.
More recently, Schmidt has downplayed Facebook as a competitor, saying that Microsoft is still the company Google watches most. New CEO Larry Page apparently disagrees, and has made winning in social a top Google priority for 2011.
Striking out in social.
Google may have underestimated Facebook, but it has been trying to add social components to its services for years — and for the most part has failed miserably. Orkut, Buzz, Wave, Dodgeball … the list goes on and on. It’s not entirely Schmidt’s fault, but as leader he has to take some responsibility for these misses.
Not earning the trust of content owners.
Under Schmidt, Google had a troubled relationship with content owners and media companies. Buying YouTube while it still had lots of pirated content — and being slow to create a system to enforce takedown orders — didn’t help Google’s relationship with Hollywood either. Distrust from content owners is one reason why Google still doesn’t have an iTunes equivalent.