How Alphabet Inc. saved Google’s mission statement

In October 2014, Larry Page, then chief executive of Google, gave an interview to the Financial Times that revealed some interesting thoughts about Google’s mission statement and the subsequent launch of Alphabet Inc, a year later. Larry Page was asked whether Google needed a new mission statement. He said, “I think we do, probably”. Considering the interview took place only 12 months before the launch of Alphabet, it shows that the parent company strategy and the future mission of Google were still being incubated.

From Larry Page’s perspective in 2014, Google’s mission statement, to “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, no longer told the whole story. With new ventures in emerging industries like biotech and robotics, Google had outgrown its mission. In 1998 when the statement was originally written, whilst being crazily ambitious, it had a clear purpose that everyone understood. But by 2014, at the time of the FT interview, it was under review. When asked by the FT what the new mission statement should be, Larry Page said, “We’re still trying to work that out.”

The process of ‘working it out’ didn’t result in a new mission statement, as you might expect, but instead in Alphabet Inc. This was the answer to the question posed in the FT interview. In setting up the parent company, Larry Page unshackled Google from non-adjacent ventures. The problem wasn’t that Google had outgrown it’s mission, but that it had been crowded out. In his letter announcing Alphabet to the world, Larry Page reaffirms Google’s mission, saying “…we can continue to make big strides on our core mission to organise the world’s information.” Between the FT interview and Alphabet’s launch, Google’s 1998 mission statement was back.

What’s interesting about the interview in the FT is it marks a point of contemplation about Google’s purpose and mission. It reveals the debate Larry Page was having about Google’s future that resulted in a new parent company called Alphabet. From a brand point of view it’s also a great case-study in mission statement management (if there is such a thing). Google didn’t opt to rewrite their mission statement and risk weakening it. Instead they restored meaning to the original mission that was clear in 1998, and continues to be ambitious today.

February 2018