Yesterday, Google issued its quarterly results for the first three months of 2012.
On the financial side, it was all good, with Google delivering impressive performance for a company that by the tech industry’s standards, is gray-haired. But there was also some bad and ugly relating to the company’s share structure and how it’s publicly characterizing its performance outside of search.
Google may no longer be the new kid on the block, but that doesn’t mean that doesn’t have any growth left either. Revenues were up 24% year-over-year, to $10.65bn, and Google earned $2.89bn in net income, up from $1.80bn in the same quarter last year. Revenues from Google Sites and the Google Network grew by 24% and 20%, respectively.
Google’s impressive ability to produce cash is apparent on its balance sheet, which now shows $49.3bn in cash, cash equivalents, and short-term marketable securities.
When Google went public, it implemented a dual-class share structure that ensured its two founders and then-CEO Eric Schmidt would retain control over the company’s affairs. “We are creating a corporate structure that is designed for stability over long time horizons,” the founders wrote.
Thanks to “day-to-day dilution from routine equity-based employee compensation and other possible dilution, such as stock-based acquisitions”, however, Google sees the potential for this dual-class share structure to be undermined. So yesterday it announced a new class of non-voting stock that will be listed on the NASDAQ and all existing shareholders will receive one new share of this stock for each share of stock they currently own.
This is an effective two-for-one stock split, something Google notes some shareholders have been begging for, but its real purpose is to ensure that Larry Page and Sergey Brin can have their cake and eat it too.
Supporters might argue that Google’s dual-class share structure has served it well thus far, but there’s good reason to believe that what Forbes contributor Eric Jackson calls “paranoid governance” is making the company less innovative as it looks to compete outside of search.
Google is a phenomenal company. It’s still the world’s top search engine and it basically has a license to print money. But when it comes to its non-search initiatives, the company arguably has a problem being honest with itself and the public.
Case in point: the company’s claims around the number of Google+ users. Google is now touting that Google+ has 170m users, but that figure appears to basically count everyone who logs into a Google account because, according to Google social chief, Vic Gundotra, Google+ is “really the unification of all of Google’s services, with a common social layer.”
If Google is going to ask its shareholders to trust its founders with the steering wheel, it’s going to need to be a lot more transparent about how their attempts to make Google a big player outside of search are truly faring.