Robert Pink: Google UK

Robert Pink, Industry Head at Google, explains how the internet company’s success is as much down to great people and a winning culture as to technological innovation.


Internet giant Google is the fast-growth company to which all others look for inspiration. In little more than a decade the company has grown from an academic project at Stanford University to a global company worth more than $150 billion. Google’s core search service is founded on clever mathematical algorithms, but the company has been no less astute when it comes to hiring the best people.

At the Breakthrough launch events in November and December, Google Head of Industry Robert Pink gave an insight into how the company maintains its unique culture with a rapid influx of talent. “A business is nothing without its people,” says Robert. “Google has gone to great lengths to ensure it hires the right people into the company, looking at a combination of intelligence, experience, creativity and personality. People are at the core of a business, and so hiring must be at the core of a business.”

How does that map out in an organisation growing as quickly as Google?

“When a company experiences fast growth it needs to hire fast to exploit the opportunity. Businesses flourish when decisions are made quickly and this is often the difference between those companies that prosper and those that stagnate.”

For owner-managers, motivated by their own vision for building the business, the work is often a reward in itself. But how does this translate to people who are recruited after the company is founded?

“Different people respond to different forms of stimulus. Every individual will have their own focus and it’s important for a small business to understand its workforce and make the most of its potential.

“Clear communications from senior management help to provide buy-in for employees, and a shared vision and goal. Likewise, organisational structure offers a framework through which decisions can be made more efficiently and in a timely manner.”

Entrepreneurs are renowned for working long hours. Should they be demanding the same of their people or should they give them freedom to flourish?

“Freedom without direction may yield creativity but not contribute to broader business goals. Likewise, pushing people to their limits may foster great short-term outputs, but result in low retention rates, which, in turn, can harm the business structure and culture.

“Encourage creativity. Allow employees to question existing structures and celebrate innovation and growth.”

Are people at Google encouraged to pursue their own interests in the name of innovation?

“At Google we encourage employees to help out in various projects outside of their core role. The projects need to ultimately drive business value. Gmail came from a fairly obscure idea that became full-scale.”

Some companies see career-long training as the way to promote innovation and inculcate their company culture. Is that the Google way? Or can too many training courses distract from the job?

“Training courses can be really useful where there's a clear need to up-skill in a specific area to help improve the business. Courses should be targeted to improving both the individual and the business.”

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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK