TIME's Adi Ignatius got the Google triumvirate of Sergey Brin, Eric Schmidt and Larry Page to sit for a talk around a table covered with Lego pieces, for which they have a known fondness, during a break at Google's recent sales conference in San Francisco. Page, who as a student built an ink-jet printer out of Lego bricks, is snapping pieces together to make a kind of endlessly ascending staircase; Brin is working on a robot. Schmidt seems too grownup for this.
WHAT ARE YOU GUYS MAKING?
BRIN: I was hoping to build a Lego nuclear reactor, but I think I have a bazooka-wielding robot.
PAGE: Hey, I know. Let's build Eric out of Legos.
GOOGLE HAS COME A LONG WAY. HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE HOST OF A MEETING WITH THOUSANDS OF EMPLOYEES?
BRIN: I have to admit I never anticipated this. Especially in a place as big as the Moscone Center. It's a bit disturbing.
YOU TALK ABOUT THE NEED FOR TRANSPARENCY IN THE BUSINESS. WHAT PROBLEM ARE YOU ADDRESSING?
SCHMIDT: With all the headlines we're making, we don't want our announcements to surprise or confuse anyone. We don't want our partners to think we're competing against them.
BRIN [holding up some clear plastic pieces]: Look, I'm only using transparent Legos.
GOOGLE HAS DOUBLED THE NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES IN THE PAST YEAR. ARE YOU DOING TWICE AS MUCH STUFF?
PAGE: Well, we're doing a lot more.
"A LOT"? THAT'S IT? I THOUGHT YOU GUYS HAD PRECISE METRICS FOR EVERYTHING.
PAGE: Yeah, well, sometimes that's hard to do.
IS THIS JOB STILL FUN?
BRIN: We've lost the sense of intimacy. Once you go from 10 people to 100, you already don't know who everyone is. So at that stage you might as well keep growing, to get the advantages of scale.
IS THERE A GRAND STRATEGY FOR GOOGLE? IT SEEMS AS IF YOU'RE DIVING INTO ALMOST EVERYTHING.
SCHMIDT: We try very hard to look like we're out of control. But in fact the company is very measured. And that's part of our secret.
PAGE: We don't generally talk about our strategy ... because it's strategic. I would rather have people think we're confused than let our competitors know what we're going to do. That's an easy trade-off.
AS A COMPANY, YOU SEEM TO GO YOUR OWN WAY. YOU DON'T SEEM TO BE AFRAID TO TELL WALL STREET TO SHOVE OFF.
BRIN: Actually, we've had a good experience with Wall Street. A lot of analysts appreciate us. O.K., some are upset.
SCHMIDT: The company isn't run for the long-term value of our shareholders but for the long-term value of our end users.
HOW MUCH DO PEOPLE USE GOOGLE TO LOOK FOR PORN?
PAGE: It's a small, single-digit percentage. We generally think that having more access is better, as long as you're not a child or overly offended. But we can help people do filtering if that's what they want, though there is no technology that can tell with 100% accuracy if an image or website is pornographic.
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO SUDDENLY BE SO WEALTHY?
BRIN: It takes a lot of getting used to. You always hear the phrase, money doesn't buy you happiness. But I always in the back of my mind figured a lot of money will buy you a little bit of happiness. But it's not really true. I got a new car because the old one's lease expired. Nothing terribly fancy--you could drive the same car.
PAGE: If we were motivated by money, we would have sold the company a long time ago and ended up on a beach.
DO YOU THINK YOU'VE CHANGED PERSONALLY SINCE THE COMPANY'S CREATION?
PAGE: Things weren't too bad until TIME wanted to put us on the cover. But seriously, I like the fact that I can meet anyone now and have a conversation.
BRIN: Larry is more relaxed.
PAGE: Sergey is more confident.
WAS IT A BIG ADJUSTMENT HAVING ERIC COME IN AS CEO?
PAGE: There was a learning curve for us.
SCHMIDT: It took me six months to understand how Google works. The subtleties took a year. Now that I have it figured out, I suppose Larry and Sergey will have to change the management.
THERE ARE STILL THOSE WHO DOUBT ERIC PLAYS A SUBSTANTIAL ROLE AT GOOGLE.
SCHMIDT: That's been the buzz since I joined. My answer is simply to let the company's results speak for themselves.
PAGE: Good answer.