Business

Google’s cofounders feared they would lose control if their company went public. Warren Buffett solved their problem.


warren buffett
Warren Buffett.

  • Google’s cofounders only agreed to take their company public after they met Warren Buffett.
  • Buffett told Larry Page and Sergey Brin they could stay in control by issuing two classes of shares.
  • Brin and Page later modeled Google’s parent company, Alphabet, on Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

Alphabet, Google’s parent company, ranks among the world’s most valuable companies with a $2 trillion market capitalization. Its cofounders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, might have kept their business private if not for a chance meeting with Warren Buffett.

“As one investor told it, Brin and Page agreed to go public only after meeting Warren Buffett, the legendary American business mogul, who introduced the two young founders to the dual-class stock structure,” author Mike Isaac wrote in “Super Pumped: The Battle For Uber.”

Google’s cofounders had been reluctant to list their company, as they feared know-nothing investors would tell them what to do, clamor for a quick payday, and pressure them to make changes if growth slowed, Isaac reported. They embraced the idea only after Buffett suggested they issue two classes of shares, ensuring they would keep control of their company.

The search-and-advertising giant issued “A” shares with a single voting right attached when it went public in 2004. Meanwhile, its cofounders hoarded “B” shares that carried 10 voting rights each, guaranteeing they wouldn’t be outvoted on decisions.

Similarly, Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway offers “A” shares that carry one vote each, and “B” shares with 1/10,000 of a vote per share. Buffett’s nearly 239,000 “A” shares mean he controls 31.5% of Berkshire’s voting rights, despite only having a 15.8% economic stake in the company.

Brin and Page explained the dual-class stock structure in their founders’ letter to investors ahead of Google’s listing. They titled their missive, “An Owner’s Manual’ for Google Shareholders.”

“Much of this was inspired by Warren Buffett’s essays in his annual reports and his ‘An Owner’s Manual’ to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders,'” the pair wrote in a footnote, tipping their hats to the Berkshire boss.

Buffett also inspired the creation of Alphabet in 2015. Brin, Page, and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt had visited the investor several years earlier, and realized that emulating Berkshire’s decentralized, autonomous structure would allow them to scale their company to new heights.

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