Ex-Google exec blasts it for going 'corporate'

One of Google's co-founders, Larry Page will take over for Eric Schmidt as the company's CEO in a few months. Some have described the last 10 years as constituting the decade of Google. Page played a big role in that story, but he wasn't top banana. Now, he will be.
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(MoneyWatch) Goldman Sachs (GS) isn't alone in dealing with unhappy ex-employees. A former Google (GOOG) executive is giving the search company the "muppet manifesto" treatment, as the now infamous op-ed piece by former Goldman derivatives trader Greg Smith has come to be called. Ex-engineering director James Whittaker has published a blistering "Why I left" letter about his reason for leaving Google, accusing the Internet giant of having become "an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus."

In a post on his blog this week, Whittaker writes:

It wasn't an easy decision to leave Google. During my time there I became fairly passionate about the company. ... No one had to ask me twice to promote Google, and no one was more surprised than me when I could no longer do so. ... The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus.

Whittaker, who now works for Microsoft (MSFT), praised former Google CEO and now chairman Eric Schmidt, saying that under his leadership "ads were always in the background. Google was run like an innovation factory, empowering employees to be entrepreneurial." By contrast, Whittaker blames the company's current chief executive, Google co-founder Larry Page, for what he describes as a change in corporate values. "As the trappings of entrepreneurship were dismantled ... the days of old Google hiring smart people and empowering them to invent the future were gone," Whittaker says. 

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Whittaker's company-gone-bad claims are similar to the explosive charges that Smith, a former executive director at Goldman, aired in the New York Times on Wednesday. Smith said the investment bank's ethics have degenerated under new management, transforming the firm's culture from one where clients were valued to a company where executives commonly referred to customers as "muppets."

Whittaker also has left himself open to the same charge of opportunism that has been leveled at Smith: Neither one went public with their complaints until after their severance checks had cleared.

Whittaker, who joined Google roughly three years ago, pointed to the use of targeted ads in the company's popular Gmail messaging platform as an example of what he doesn't like about the company. "When Gmail displays ads based on things I type into my email message, it creeps me out," he writes. This feature has been a part of Gmail since the service launched in 2004.

For the most part, the furor around Smith's comments have overshadowed Whittaker's complaints. That largely reflects the widespread public criticism of Goldman, which has been lambasted in Washington and in the media for contributing to the financial crisis.

No such accusations have been made against Google, so Whittaker's critique carries considerably less weight. The company may have done him wrong, or arguably strayed from its roots as hub for innovation, but it didn't wreck the economy.

Investors seem to feel the same way. Goldman's stock dropped 3 percent on Wednesday following the hubbub over Smith, while Google shares closed yesterday essentially flat.

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    Constantine von Hoffman is a freelance writer and writing coach. His work has appeared in outlets such as Harvard Business Review, NPR, Sierra magazine, Brandweek, CIO, The Boston Herald, TheStreet.com, CSO, and Boston Magazine.