Larry Page controversially MIA at Google, but his crazy bike hyperloop idea sounds worth it

Likely originating out of Page and Pichai’s absence at a recent hearing on Capitol Hill, Bloomberg is out today with a report asking “Where in the World Is Larry Page?” It goes on to detail the Alphabet CEO’s controversial decision to opt-out of the hearing, his broader distancing of himself from the daily politics and issues at Google, and the many distractions that have kept him busy in recent years.

Larry Page’s decision to opt-out of the hearing comes as there’s an internal desire to see how, from a societal perspective, Google will wade through wide-reaching criticisms — namely, the antitrust cases the company faces in Europe and the Russia-backed manipulation of its platform.

“What I didn’t see in the last year was a strong central voice about how [Google’s] going to operate on these issues that are societal and less technical,” says a longtime executive who recently left the company.

According to Bloomberg interviews, Larry’s long been missing in action. Colleagues reportedly say that he’s “more withdrawn than ever.”

But a slew of interviews in recent months with colleagues and confidants, most of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because they were worried about retribution from Alphabet, describe Page as an executive who’s more withdrawn than ever, bordering on emeritus, invisible to wide swaths of the company.

But where has he withdrawn to? Beyond his usual fascination with crazy R&D projects over the day-to-day aspects of managing the Alphabet subsidiaries (the largest of which is, obviously, Google), it appears Larry is spending a lot of time on his private island — widely believed to be Eustatia.

What’s occupying Page’s time today? People who know him say he’s disappearing more frequently to his private, white-sand Caribbean island. That’s not to imply that, at 45, he’s already living the daiquiri lifestyle. He still oversees each Alphabet subsidiary, though the extent of his involvement is vague.

Interestingly, Bloomberg has some new details on exactly where Page has decided to place his involvement over the last few years. One of those places is Google Fiber, which has struggled lately to say the least. Apparently Page was very hands on, though:

For several months he maintained a weekly meeting with leaders at Google Fiber, a project to develop ultrahigh-speed internet access, to brainstorm technical solutions for implementing the service, such as newfangled ways to drill fiber-optic cables into sidewalks, says a former manager there.

Another thing that Page got caught up in was a wild project called “Heliox,” which would apparently have been some kind of crazy tube that would propel bicyclists between Google’s Mountain View campus and downtown San Francisco. That project is unsurprisingly defunct now, Bloomberg says.

Another skunkworks project that consumed Page, started in 2015 and previously unreported, was a Disney-esque idea to reimagine transportation, code-named Heliox. According to three people familiar with the effort, a team operating out of a former NASA hangar in the Bay Area built a tube of plastic the width of a subway car, snaked around a circular track, designed to propel bicyclists at rapid speeds through a swirl of oxygen and helium pumped into the tunnel at their backs.

And (emphasis ours):

Heliox was pure Page, a space-age concept both preposterously imaginative yet mechanically marvelous: The vision was to stretch this tube system, arced hundreds of feet in the air, from a ground-level entry point on Google’s Mountain View campus to an exit 35 miles north, in San Francisco, so Google’s rainbow-colored beach cruisers might one day be seen flying over U.S. Highway 101.

The report concludes noting that Page’s longstanding strategy of staying in the background might be backfiring, despite the obvious benefits of not facing the kinds of criticism Elon Musk is weathering with his reckless use of Twitter and marijuana smoking on podcasts.

McNamee, the early investor who’s since advocated for the company’s breakup, says Page and Pichai shirked their civic duty by skipping the hearing. “This is Corporate Governance 101,” he says. “You’ve been invited to speak in front of a Senate hearing to protect our democracy, and your response is, ‘We’re too important to go’? The whole world is looking at them: ‘What the hell is wrong with you people? Who are you?’ ”

Read the full report over at Bloomberg.

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Avatar for Stephen Hall Stephen Hall

Stephen is Growth Director at 9to5. If you want to get in touch, follow me on Twitter. Or, email at stephen (at) 9to5mac (dot) com, or an encrypted email at hallstephenj (at) protonmail (dot) com.