An effective tech CEO does not need computer programming expertise, said former Google CEO Eric Schmidt in a new interview.
“You don't have to have a computer science degree, but you have to have an analytical bent,” says Schmidt. “You have to be able to work with the numbers.”
“If you think in terms of metaphor and in terms of vision and in terms of ideas, you're going to not be able to run these companies,” adds Schmidt, who holds a PhD in computer science from the University of California, Berkeley.
Schmidt lauded Steve Jobs, Apple founder and CEO, who dropped out of college as an undergraduate but afterward attended a calligraphy course that inspired later Apple designs.
“He studied calligraphy and of course, did it very well, did everything well, the smartest of them all,” Schmidt said.
‘Adult supervision no longer needed’
Hired as CEO by Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Schmidt is thought to exemplify the “parent in the room” executive brought to a company to oversee its young visionaries. When Schmidt stepped down as chief executive and Page took over the role, in 2011, Schmidt tweeted, “Day-to-day adult supervision no longer needed!”
Schmidt made the remarks on tech leadership to Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in a conversation that aired on Yahoo Finance in an episode of “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
Schmidt, who ran Google from 2001 to 2011, grew the company from a startup to a multinational tech giant. Under his tenure, the company extended its offerings beyond search through the acquisition of YouTube and the development of the Android mobile operating system, among other initiatives. From 2011 to 2017, Schmidt served as the executive chairman at Google and its parent company Alphabet.
Schmidt remains a technical adviser to the board of Alphabet.
On Tuesday, Schmidt released a book entitled “Trillion Dollar Coach,” which chronicles the life and management advice of famed executive coach Bill Campbell. The book is co-authored by Jonathan Rosenberg and Alan Eagle, former colleagues of Schmidt at Google.
‘We’re getting people who are ably capable at everything’
The competition for talented tech leaders ensures that well-rounded candidates become executives, Schmidt said.
“We're getting people who are ably capable at everything,” he says. “The old rule about capability is there are people who are just maddeningly better than you at reading and writing and arithmetic and whatever,” he adds.
“They're more likely to rise to the top now because it's so meritocratic now.”
While Schmidt describes the C-suite in tech companies as a meritorcracy, data suggests that the top ranks of corporations lack diversity. As of last year, there were three black CEOs at Fortune 500 companies. Only 24 women served in such roles.
In 2018, white executives held 73% of such positions at 177 of the largest San Francisco Bay Area tech firms analyzed by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting. Asian executives accounted for less than 21% of such positions, with only 4.5% of them held by Asian women.
Andy Serwer is editor-in-chief of Yahoo Finance.