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Google CFO Speaks at Dartmouth

Patrick Pichette, Google's chief financial officer, applauds at an announcement in Kansas City, Kansas, in March 2011. (Associated Press - Orlin Wagner)

Patrick Pichette, Google's chief financial officer, applauds at an announcement in Kansas City, Kansas, in March 2011. (Associated Press - Orlin Wagner)

Hanover — A high-ranking Google executive energized an auditorium of graduate students with a public discussion on the possibilities of technology and business.

Yesterday afternoon, Patrick Pichette, Google’s chief financial officer and senior vice president, encouraged about 150 students at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth to never fear unconventional ideas in the expanding digital economy.

His speech, Tipping The Scale: Google & The Future of Big Data, was part of the Britt Technology Impact Series, which is put on by the Center for Digital Strategies at Tuck and provides students with insights into how the changes in technology affect enterprise and industries.

“Why don’t I just jump right in,” Pichette said. “It really starts with aspirations.”

After nearly 20 years of financial operations and management experience in the telecommunications sector, Pichette said, the key to business success is big-picture “10X Thinking.”

“One of the first questions we ask ourselves at Google is: ‘Will a minimum of a billion people use this?’ ” he said. “If not, it’s probably not worth our time.”

Although dreaming up revolutionary products is a daunting and tremendous task, it’s rewarding for the individual, Pichette said.

With a “healthy disregard for the impossible, you focus on the opportunity,” he said. “You ask yourself: ‘How will this wow people? How will this change the world?’ ”

Google began nearly 15 years ago, Pichette said, with two guys in a garage whose dream was “to organize and make useful all of the world’s information.”

“This could be you too,” he said. “The opportunity’s out there.”

The auditorium was silent. Students who had intended to take notes sat staring in awe.

Pichette shared two pieces of advice.

“The biggest secret in the world is this,” he said. “Everyone is insecure.”

Winston Churchill, Mohandas Gandhi, Stephen Colbert, the person to your left, the person to your right, they’re all insecure, Pichette said. The sound of pencils and pens scratching on paper filled the auditorium.

“Now that you know that,” he said, “just relax. Now, you have the license to just jump in and go for it.”

He continued: “The second one is mentors. Find mentors. Keep mentors. Trust mentors. They’re the only people who have a genuine passion for your ability and success. Mentors matter immensely.”

Pichette said successful innovation also results from using intuition to take chances.

“If you see something that’s an opportunity, it probably is,” he said. “So you should go for it. If you believe something’s missing, invent it.”

He paused.

“Do you know what I wish for the world? I wish for another 10, another 20, another 50 Google’s out there. Don’t miss your opportunity. Jump in. Join us.”

As a young student in Montreal, Pichette studied all sciences, he said. But in college, he did an about-face, and delved into the fine arts for two years. Then, he joined “the U.S. equivalent of the peace corps, working for a dollar a day,” before he picked up a job as a tree logger.

He finally went back to school, he said, and picked up two degrees in business and philosophy, politics and economics.

The “scatterplot” of experiences lead him to his current path in life, he insisted.

“All of these events were absolutely invaluable,” Pichette said. “It was never conventional, but it turned out that they were all important pieces of my journey.”

Pichette then opened the floor to a question-and-answer session.

Nishant Daruka, a 31-year-old Tuck student who’s working for Amazon after graduation, asked Pichette which companies the CFO admired and saw as “having their hearts and minds in the right place.”

“I think Apple is a great company,” Pichette said. The room gawked and laughed.

Google and Apple are in bitter competition, Pichette said, but “just because we’re different” doesn’t mean there isn’t room for both in the digital economy.

“What I don’t believe is there’s space for is jealousy,” he said. “Create the magic for everyone. That’s the best way to win.”

One student asked about the future of the popular file-sharing archive Google Docs. Another questioned the progress of Google Fiber, a program that focuses on high-speed Internet.

He answered each student, mowing through 30 minutes worth of queries with the speed and efficiency of a computer.

Daruka said afterwards that the speech was remarkably enriching.

“You can get the facts anywhere,” Daruka said, “but you can’t get the inspiration. (Pichette) jostled us to think locally and globally beyond our pennies and dimes.”

Rodney Bolton, 55, another Tuck student who flew in from Los Angeles for a week of classes, said he also walked away from the speech feeling motivated.

But, he would have liked the conversation to dig further into the perils of big data, he said, the “Big Brother consequences” of sharing personal information in exchange for more optimized web searches and better information.

“It may have been hard to put him on the spot like that,” Bolton said, “But I would have liked to hear about it. I think Google has a huge responsibility in the digital age that’s here and still to come.”

Zack Peterson can be reached at zpeterson@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.