Google has a secret ‘bench’ program that keeps execs at the company even when they’re not leading anything

Google has a secret ‘bench’ program that keeps execs at the company even when they’re not leading anything

Google’s bench of veteran executives and engineers is deep and packed with familiar faces, and it’s no accident.

The Internet company’s obsession with prized engineers and product gurus, and its competitive instinct to keep them away from rivals, means that certain executives can essentially rotate out of an active role for months or even years at a time, often getting paid to wait until the organization needs them again.

Some of those veteran faces are back in the spotlight. Omid Kordestani, Google’s first sales boss, was called back to active duty last year to oversee the business after the abrupt departure of chief business officer Nikesh Arora.

Brian McClendon, one of the early forces responsible for the popular maps product, has been in a quiet limbo for more than six months after leaving his post at the helm of the maps team last fall. McClendon is a “towering figure” within Google and is currently “on the bench” as he figures out his next move, people close to the company say, though it’s unclear whether he’ll start a new project at Google or leave the company entirely.

Meanwhile, Salar Kamangar, one of Google’s first 15 employees and the former head of YouTube, technically has the senior vice president of products title, though his actual role now involves advising chief executive Larry Page, according to a recent report on The Information.

The bench system is a little-discussed but effective strategic tactic in Google’s playbook as the company looks to expand into new markets and to keep an edge over a growing crop of web challengers that are all desperate for seasoned Internet business experts.

“It helps keep people off the market. It helps keep the institutional knowledge if you need them back for any reason. And it costs [Google] so little to retain these people rather than to have them leave and start the next Facebook,” says one former Google executive.

About one-third of Google’s first 100 hires still work at the company, according to Work Rules!, a recent book by the company’s HR boss Laszlo Bock.

It’s more of an informal system rather than an established program, sources say. But the underlying intention and goals are clear and purposeful. “It’s very rational,” says the former Google executive. (Google declined to comment on this story.)

With its deep pockets and sundry internal projects, Google can offer its elites attractive incentives to hang around, even after an individual has moved on from, or been replaced in, their previous role. The company will often tell someone to take 18 months or 24 months to figure out what they want to do next at the company, explained the former Googler.
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