Google is no ordinary company and this certainly flows on to their recruitment processes. The company is known to ask job candidates some of the world’s toughest interview questions, but the hunt for their CEO 18 years ago went far beyond their traditional screening methods.
Google’s founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, are known ‘Burners’ – devoted attendees of the annual expressionist art and music festival held in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. The festival is a known haven for tech entrepreneurs and Silicon Valley moguls who intermingle with the hordes of fruit loops and naked hippies under its ten shared principles. For years, the centre atrium of Google’s office was even laden with pictures of Googlers cutting shapes and doing things like spinning fire at the festival.
Steve Kotler, performance expert and Google insider, explained in an interview with Business Insider that what appealed to Brin and Page about the festival was its ability to evoke a sense of community:
“So one of the things that happen at Burning Man – and there’s recent research out of Oxford that sort of backs this up – is that Burning Man alters consciousness in a very particular way and it drops people into a state of group flow. If you’ve ever taken part in a great brainstorming session, where ideas are kind of bouncing everywhere – you’re really reaching ripe, smart conclusions. If you’ve seen a fourth-quarter comeback in football. … That’s group flow in action,” Kotler said.
The story begins in 1999, when Brin and Page raised $12.5 million from a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley. Being desperate to get Google off the ground, the co-founders consented to hire an outsider to replace Page as CEO as an ‘insurance nanny play’ to ensure supervision of the young founders as they found their feet.
As expected, Brin and Page were reluctant to bring some self-professed corporate hero into the company, let alone give them the top job. Their primary concern was that the new CEO wouldn’t be in harmony with the company’s group flow states, which they now quote as being integral to getting the best work out of their employees.
Hunting a candidate with this unique harmonic quality, Brin and Page burnt through around 50 CEOs in Silicon Valley before they came across Eric Schmidt, then-CEO of software company Novell. The pair found out that he’d actually been to Burning Man and bumped him straight to the top of the pile. According to Kotler, they then decided to take him to Burning Man for the ultimate test: “Was he was going to be able to let go of his ego and merge with the team, or was he going to stand in its way?”
He must have passed with flying colours, as Page later described the hire as “brilliant”. Eric Schmidt became Google’s CEO in 2001 and held the position until becoming Executive Chairman in 2011 for a further seven years.
For more on Burning Man check out these insane aerial shots taken before and after the festival.