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Google's Long Reach Muddles Board Room Picture
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Last month, Google C.E.O. Eric Schmidt, who sits on Apple's board of directors, revealed that he's been compelled to leave Apple board meetings on more than one occasion because Google's mobile-device platform, Android, poses a direct challenge to Apple's iPhone. If Google were to adopt a similar practice of asking its directors with conflicts of interest to step outside, its board meetings might start getting pretty small.
The first to get the heave-ho would be John Doerr, who finds himself on the other side of the Android-iPhone fault line: In March, Doerr launched the $100 million iFund to invest in companies writing applications for the iPhone. If Google's board went on to discuss App Engine, Google's cloud computing initiative, Doerr would again have to excuse himself since he sits on the board of Amazon, whose fast-growing Web-services business competes directly with App Engine.
Should the conversation turn to Google's vigorous efforts to optimize its services for the iPhone, Doerr could return to the meeting. But if talk veered toward Google's plans to acquire wireless spectrum, John Hennessy, who sits on Cisco's board, might have to recuse himself, since Cisco has scrapped publicly with Google over who deserves to get the biggest slice of the new wireless broadband spectrum being auctioned off by the Federal Communications Commission.
Google's venture-capital investments? Sergey Brin should take a walk—after all, his new bride, Ann Wojcicki, is a founder of bio-info startup 23andMe. After Brin returns, perhaps the board would like to address tactics in the pitched battle between Google's Checkout payment service and eBay's PayPal. Might director Ann Mather, who served as a board member for Shopping.com before eBay acquired it for $634 million in 2005, care to head to the cafeteria for a coffee?
Of course, Google isn't deliberately stacking its board with representatives from its competitors. It's just that, as anyone whose business Google has targeted with its ever-expanding arsenal of services knows, there's no escaping the Googleplex. One suggestion: Rather than asking its directors to run hither and thither, Google could have its engineers build a boardroom version of the Cone of Silence from this summer's film version of Get Smart.


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