By Hosking, Patrick
New Statesman (1996) , Vol. 133, No. 4687
Larry Page and Sergey Brin have at last announced plans to float their company Google on the stock market. It is going to become one of the most closely watched financial transactions of the year.
The two men, just 31 and 30, both sons of university professors, both PhDs in computer science, have created one of the most useful tools on the planet--half of all web searches are now done through Google--and they are inviting outside investors to take a punt.
They have been compared with Bill Gates of Microsoft. Like Gates, they will certainly be technology billionaires. The pundits are already putting a tentative price tag of $30bn on Google, which means Page and Brin would be worth $4bn or so each.
They have been compared with Martha Lane Fox of lastminute.com. As in Lane Fox's case, the hype surrounding the float (or IPO, as they call these things on Wall Street) is intense and analysts are predicting a level of demand not seen since the mania of the dotcom years.
But the high-minded duo remind me above all of Anita Roddick, the founder of Body Shop International. They have the same idealism, the same evangelical fervour, the same belief that their company is not primarily about making money.
Page's letter to prospective shareholders has subheadings such as "Don't Be Evil" and "Making the World a Better Place". Google, he writes, "has a responsibility to the world". They also have the same contempt for the traditional financial markets--"the merchant wankers", as Roddick used to call the corporate financiers who brought Body Shop to the stock market.
Page and Brin are so suspicious of Wall Street that they plan to shun normal IPO procedure. Instead, they will offer shares direct to the moms and pops through a Dutch auction. The investment banks will miss out on hundreds of millions in fees. Nor will they be able to use the promise of big share allocations to sweeten influential clients--a form of bribery known as "spinning" that was rampant during the dotcom years.
Page and Brin also plan to insulate Google from the damaging short-term pressures put on most blue chips by outside investors by introducing a two-tier share structure. Their shares will carry ten times as many votes as anyone else's. "Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one," they say in their introductory letter to prospective shareholders.
The message is unmistakable. …