5 traits of "the most ambitious CEO in the universe"

Fortune has pegged Google's Larry Page, 42, as the most ambitious CEO in the universe. He has helped cement the company's core search business and is now a driving force behind Google's new and bigger bets.

So as CEO of a 55,000-person company, what does Mr. Page do differently from other leaders? (Aside from innovating ingestible nanoparticles that may rewrite the rules of modern medicine and designing balloons that can beam down broadband signals, that is.) Here are five of his most remarkable behaviors or traits, as observed by Fortune.

1. He has sky-high expectations that are almost cartoon-like. Setting the bar high and motivating employees to exceed expectations is a cornerstone of good management, but Mr. Page takes this to the next level. For instance, Google was founded with the mission to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" — no small feat. But today, Mr. Page says that vision is "probably a bit too narrow." That statement conveys the size of his intentions, and the urgency he feels to move technology forward.

The individuals Mr. Page oversees are aware of this ambition, and reciprocate in-kind. Take businessman and scientist Andy Conrad, for example. He leads Google X's latest project, ingestible nanoparticles that would monitor people for diseases. He describe to Fortune what it feels like when discussing ideas with Mr. Page: "You feel terrified, inspired and nurtured at the same time." There's also a joke that has made the rounds at Google X, a tall tale in which a scientist wants to show Mr. Page a time machine. "As the scientist reaches for the power cord to begin a demo, Page fires off a dismissive question: 'Why do you need to plug it in?'"

2. He is an aggressive dreamer, but also an assertive executive. Mr. Page was previously part of a three-member executive team: Eric Schmidt ran the company as CEO, and Mr. Page and his cofounder Sergey Brin served as presidents. When that arrangement dissolved in 2011, Mr. Page took on the CEO role. Since then, he has reorganized top ranks twice, eliminated numerous products, integrated the look and feel of those that remained and encouraged Google's engineers to simplify.

Google has grown more than 20 percent annually for the past three years. In its most recent quarter, revenue topped $16 billion. This challenges the notion that creative people have a hard time managing or that big-thinkers pay little notice to operational details. Mr. Page is not merely concocting Willy Wonka-like dreams in his C-suite, but acting as a hands-on executive who makes hard decisions. He reigns in his imagination when he must, choosing which pursuits to continue and which to kill.

3. He is committed to consistently reinventing the company. Mr. Page has taken note of tech giants of yore — many companies rested on their laurels and simply kept doing what they did best. Eventually, they grew irrelevant. Mr. Page knows top talent in tech and science do not want to work for one-trick ponies. To keep Google rich with the brightest minds and thriving for generations instead of a couple of decades, Mr. Page continues to push Google to diversify its offerings. The company's "bucket of investments" includes bets of the short-, medium- and long-term variety.

4. He's the No. 1 Google user. Back in 2000, Google was launching its first ads. Mr. Page stayed up late in his office one night, testing the search engine and getting a feel for the ads, according to Fortune. When Amit Singhal, now the senior vice president in charge of search, arrived at work the next morning, he saw the hallway wallpapered with printouts of dozens of searches — all marked up by Mr. Page's handwriting. He asked questions like, Is this ad good for our users? Why is this ad showing up? What went wrong here? Mr. Page was, and still remains, the No. 1 Google user. "He is our über-user," Mr. Singhal told Fortune. There is something remarkable about Mr. Page test driving products himself.

5. He still researches things like no other. Mr. Page might be CEO, but he doesn't rely on direct reports to provide all the information he needs. He finds it himself. Mr. Page is a visionary with "the capacity and curiosity for deep academic study," according to Fortune. This means he doesn't arrive at a meeting expecting to be informed. Quite the opposite — the people he manages face the real risk of being a step or two behind him, even though they spend more time on these projects. He can also debate the subtle details of initiatives — such as that of Project Loon, Google's foray into balloons as telecommunication tools — with any of the company's engineers. Part of this comes down to Mr. Page's management style when working with intelligent scientists. "Deep knowledge from your manager goes a long way toward motivating you," Mr. Page told Fortune. "And I have a pretty good capability for that."

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