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Google’s CFO on Growth, Capital Structure, and Leadership

Patrick Pichette describes the attitudes and behavior that Google hopes will keep it growing like a start-up.

by James Manyika, Partner, McKinsey

When it comes to playing the classic role of the no-nonsense chief financial officer, Patrick Pichette has his own personal interpretation. Google’s CFO may oversee $36 billion in cash reserves at one of the world’s most recognized companies, but he still flies coach class, rides a beat-up bicycle to work, and responds directly to e-mails from fellow ‘Googlers’ every day. “It takes a little more time,” he says. “But it crushes the idea of bureaucracy—and that’s the way it should be.”

An alumnus of Bell Canada and McKinsey and a Rhodes Scholar with a master’s degree in philosophy, politics, and economics from Oxford University, Pichette is no less direct about the business side of things. He calls acquisitions an ‘accelerator’ for growth and scoffs at the idea of business units because they force people into ‘ownership’ positions that hinder creative flexibility. Pichette is also a passionate advocate of sustaining Google’s start-up culture—even as the company now generates $30 billion a year in revenue.

Clad in a rugby shirt and jeans in his office at Google’s Mountain View, California, headquarters, he recently sat down with McKinsey’s James Manyika to lay out some of his thinking on growth, strategy, and the financial side of Google’s business.