California kings

The dynamics of Google’s unusual management structure, with power shared among cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page and CEO Eric Schmidt, have long been hidden behind Google’s corporate cloak of opacity. But a ray of light pierced the darkness today, as the Wall Street Journal’s Kevin Delaney reported on how the threesome collaborated in retrofitting the secondhand Boeing 767 that Brin and Page purchased last year. Delaney offers a first-hand report from Leslie Jennings, the designer hired to remodel the plane:

Mr. Jennings says that Messrs. Brin and Page “had some strange requests,” including hammocks hung from the ceiling of the plane. At one point he witnessed a dispute between them over whether Mr. Brin should have a “California king” size bed, he says. Mr. Jennings says Mr. Schmidt stepped in to resolve that by saying, “Sergey, you can have whatever bed you want in your room; Larry, you can have whatever kind of bed you want in your bedroom. Let’s move on.” Mr. Jennings says Mr. Schmidt at another point told him, “It’s a party airplane.”

In recent years, Google has benefited from many glowing profiles in the press highlighting its cofounders’ modest lifestyles, in particular the fact that they both drive fuel-efficient Toyota Prius hybrid cars. In a 2004 profile on the television show 20-20, Barbara Walters noted that “Larry Page and Sergey Brin are not your typical billionaires. In fact, if you type billionaire into Google, the picture that emerges — fancy cars, private jets, mansions, jewels, supermodel girlfriends — isn’t anything you’d find in the lifestyle of the Google guys. Page drives a Prius, which costs around $21,000. Brin gets around for the most part on in-line skates, and he still lives in a rented apartment.” That same year, the BBC wrote that “far from living an extravagant lifestyle, complete with yachts and private jets like fellow software leader Oracle boss Larry Ellison, Mr Page, 31, and Mr Brin, 30, are both reported to continue to live modest, unassuming lifestyles. They don’t even have sports cars, and instead are said to each drive a Toyota Prius, a plain-looking but rather environmentally friendly saloon that is half electric-powered, and growing in popularity among green-minded Americans.” Last year, Business Week reported, “Flash and ostentation cut no ice at Google … The status vehicle of choice at the Googleplex is the Toyota Prius hybrid, which both co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page drive.” Playboy, in the introduction to its famous interview with Brin and Page, wrote, “The two are unlikely billionaires. They seem uninterested in the accoutrements of wealth. Both drive Priuses, Toyota’s hybrid gas-and-electric car. It is impossible to imagine them in Brioni suits.”

The Prius can go about 55 miles on a single gallon of gas. A Boeing 767, by contrast, will burn about 7,500 gallons of fuel during a typical five-hour party flight. The size of the beds does not appear to have a measurable impact on fuel consumption.

2 thoughts on “California kings

  1. Seth Finkelstein

    I was actually wondering about what, exactly, was the reason for the argument. Does the size of the beds somehow affect what needs to be done for refitting the plane’s chassis? That is, what was the part of the conversation *before* the quote given? I assume it wasn’t about pure status, though that idea is part of what makes the story. Enquiring minds want to know!

  2. Anonymous

    You want a party plane – any of us can go on Virgin’s business (Upper) class – has an open bar (with stools) and flat beds. So why shouldn’t Google’s execs have a bit more? About the cost of the 767 – compare it to other private planes…

    from another WSJ article last year about the Google plane

    “Aviation-industry experts estimate that the airplane, because of its age and history, cost under $15 million, and maybe less. That’s roughly one-third the price of a new Gulfstream 550 business jet….Filled to capacity, it’s potentially cheaper to run, per person than a Gulfstream.”

    May be they should fly Virgin (or retrofit the Prius to make it amphibious or even fly), but then we should expect that of every exec in the US not just pick on Google…

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