The Huber Affair: Demining Now Underway

June 26, 2012

Google is working overtime to keep attention focused on technical issues. You can wallow in the smart software encomium in the New York Times. (See “How Many Computers to Identify a Cat? 16,000” in the June 27, 2012, environmentally unfriendly newspaper or you can give the newspaper’s maybe here, maybe gone link at The Google I/O Conference fast approaches, so there are the concomitant write ups about a Google hardware and news in “Google’s I/O Conference: New Operating System, Tablet”.

But there are two personnel stories which seem to haunt the company at what is the apex of the Google techno-promo machine: Larry Page’s minor voice problem and a person few people outside of Google have heard about. Both of these are potential “information minefields.” Google does not, as far as I know, have an effective demining system in place.

I have avoided commenting directly on the health thing. You can get the story or what passes for a story in “Google CEO Larry Page and the Healthy Way to Answer, ‘What’s Wrong?’” But I do have an opinion about the wizard responsible for Local Search, Maps, Earth, Travel,  Payments, Wallet, Offers, and Shopping. I read more about about one Google executive than I expected in “This Exec May Have The Hardest Job At Google, And His Colleagues Are Tired Of Seeing Him Get Trashed In The Press.

The basic idea, as I understand it, is:

Last week, we [Business Insider] published a story headlined: “Depending On Whom You Ask, This Google Exec Is Either ‘Weak’ Or He Just Drew The Short Straw?

The publication did some digging and learned from “senior sources”:

Their view is that Huber is a top-notch Google executive who asked for the hardest challenge his boss could give him and he got it – in the form of nascent, unproven products and an executive reporting to him that ended up being vastly under-qualified for her job.

The weak link in the Google brain mesh was a person from PayPal. Yikes. A female goofed with some PayPal type projects. The story wraps up:

Two of our sources are Huber’s colleagues on Page’s senior staff. One described working with Huber as an “honor.” The other told us that reading our original story questioning Huber’s competence made him “quite upset.” “Usually I don’t get upset or read the press, but there are very few folks at Google that have the kind of respect that Jeff has.” As for Huber’s competence, this executive – and several other sources – pointed to one thing: that under 8 years of Huber’s co-management Google’s ad business grew from $1 billion to $40 billion. “I think if you look at his track record on ads and apps, they stand for themselves, and I think that’s why Larry asked him to take on such a challenge.”

Interesting because I don’t pay much attention to most of these Google services. In fact, I don’t pay much attention to Google at all these days. Sure, I use the search system along with, which I find increasingly useful.

What is interesting to me is:

  • Quite an about face from an “insider” publication. I wonder what caused that pivot. Perhaps Google made some phone calls? Maybe someone wrote the publication? Who knows? Obviously something caused a rethink, some phone calls, and some very juicy details to become visible. Who was the fall person? I had never heard of her and I wonder what her side of the story is.
  • Google has some big PR issues with these two personnel flaps. I am not sure how one puts the Larry Page “voice” thing back in the bag. I know it has been let out. The Jeff Huber matter seems darned interesting to me. With a direct report to Larry Page, is this person a possible candidate to run the entire Google thing if Mr. Page changes his role. If so, the “grab bag” of products and services probably requires some monitoring.
  • The situation underscores for me yet another management issue. Google is now 13 years old and seems to have a fault line between the hard and soft sides of its business. Somehow the engineering information is reasonably well orchestrated. The example I like to cite are the talks and papers of Ciprian Chelba. (I know. Who?) The mobile search and voice information is an orderly quilt of information. The information about nuts and bolts of management seems to be less orderly.

I find these management examples quite fascinating. Oh, do we have a viewpoint about managing personnel and PR? Sure. Missteps may point to deeper management challenges within a company solely dependent on one revenue stream which is likely to be affected by global economic trends.

Management is important. Missteps happen. The management of the missteps is important. Hard information gets close attention. Soft information? Maybe less attention. Thus, Google triggers the Huber Affair.

Stephen E Arnold, June 26, 2012

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One Response to “The Huber Affair: Demining Now Underway”

  1. yogirk on June 26th, 2012 11:48 am

    You’re reading too much into the Jeff Huber thing, sir. It has got nothing to do with Jeff or Google’s lack of management skills in this case. It is BusinessInsider. All they do is link bait. provocative titles and pointless slides. Its the cancer of Internet.

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