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Google reportedly has a massive culture problem that's destroying it from the inside

Business Insider Singapore logo Business Insider Singapore 13/8/2019 Ben Gilbert, Business Insider US
a person holding a sign © Provided by Business Insider Inc

  • Google has been struggling with internal and external criticism over the past several years on a variety of issues, from lacking diversity in its workforce to its work in China.
  • One major source of those issues is the company's acceptance of "aberrant geniuses," according to former CEO Eric Schmidt. "You need these aberrant geniuses because they're the ones that drive, in most cases, the product excellence," he told Wired in a recent piece.
  • One of the "aberrant geniuses" named was former Android head Andy Rubin, who left Google in 2014 with a $90 million exit package after being accused of coercing a coworker to perform oral sex.

Google has been having a rough few years.

In June 2018, its big government contract for Project Maven was scrapped when company executives gave in to internal criticism. Then, in November, employees walked out in protest over allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against top executives. Finally, in July, after employees pushed back against a censored version of Google Search being developed for China, the project was revealed to be canceled as well.

As it turns out, all of those issues were rooted in Google's culture, according to a massive new investigation by Wired.

Andy Rubin wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera: Former Android chief Andy Rubin. © Provided by Business Insider Inc Former Android chief Andy Rubin. captionFormer Android chief Andy Rubin.sourceGetty

Embracing 'aberrant geniuses'

The issue with Google's culture is most succinctly summarized in a quote from former Google CEO and Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt.

"You need these aberrant geniuses because they're the ones that drive, in most cases, the product excellence," Schmidt told Wired in an interview earlier this year.

One of the "aberrant geniuses" named in the piece was former Android head Andy Rubin, who left Google in 2014 with a $90 million exit package after being accused of coercing a coworker to perform oral sex.

The products in reference here are some of Google's best - products used by billions of people around the world, like Gmail, Google Maps, and Google Translate. They're also tremendously important pieces of Google's business.

And that's why Schmidt's statement about "aberrant geniuses" being allowed more rope than other employees is so important: It's a cultural standard that allows executives to value certain employees so much that even after they are accused of sexual misconduct - and that accusation being considered credible by Google after an investigation - the accused person leaves with a massive bonus and no repercussions.

Google did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.

a man holding a sign: Google employees staged a mass walkout in November. © Provided by Business Insider Inc Google employees staged a mass walkout in November. captionGoogle employees staged a mass walkout in November.sourceMatt Weinberger/Business Insider

Political arguments divide the company

The same cultural standard within Google that encourages frank, open dissent - when paired with Google's famously open internal communications - has also pushed employees into political arguments that have divided the company.

Several conservative former Google employees are suing the company, accusing Google of censoring their political speech and firing them, and one has become a talking point on Fox News. The engineer Kevin Cernekee is one of those former employees who says he was fired from Google because of what he alleges was anti-conservative bias.

Based on Cernekee's allegations, President Donald Trump has begun targeting Google and CEO Sundar Pichai in recent weeks. Trump said Pichai was being watched "very closely" and accused the CEO of groveling for favor from Trump in a prior meeting. 

But that's far from the end of Google's recent problems - check out the full piece in Wired right here for a thorough breakdown of the company's problematic past few years.

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