Wojcicki: Advertising, even display, is in Google's DNA

May 4, 2011: 2:09 PM ET
Image representing Susan Wojcicki as depicted ...

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The company's elusive executive isn't just widely respected by employees, but also a force behind many of the products that make the company profitable.

FORTUNE -- Though she's responsible for Google's biggest moneymakers, Susan Wojcicki isn't a recognizable face, certainly not like co-founders Sergey Brin or Larry Page, who rented out her garage in 1998 to serve as Google's (GOOG) first headquarters. But as Senior Vice President of Advertising, her work has been instrumental to the Internet giant's success: Wojcicki spearheaded the advertising platform AdWords, Google's biggest moneymaker, and pushed for the acquisition of YouTube in 2006.

At WIRED's Disruptive by Design business conference yesterday, Wojcicki covered several topics, including Page's reorganization efforts. One of his mandates, inspired by Mayor Mike Bloomberg efforts, are new weekly executive meetings every Friday dubbed "execute."

"Every executive is in a big building, and I think one of the things Larry wanted to do was bring all the executives together," she says. "If somebody has an issue, we can resolve it right then and there."

She also reflected on the early days of AdWords. When the company first decided it needed its own ad system, the company was just 20 or 30-strong, a far cry from the 20,000 or so currently employed there. Given Google's then-status as a David versus larger Internet Goliaths, she admits it was a crazy idea to build a full-fledged ad system in addition to a search engine.

It also didn't help that they had steep demands. The company asked ad providers for ads for every topic, available in 40 different languages, and loaded in sub-second time. (At the time, Wojcicki says ad providers offered some 5 ads per campaign.) In theory, that meant for a bookseller, if there are 100,000 different authors, there should be 100,000 different ads.

"We went to the all ad providers," she recalls. "Everybody said 'no.' … So we had all these debates internally. Some thought we could go bankrupt. Some people thought we could make money. It turns out that it was true -- we could make money." She's being modest: it's estimated that Wojcicki's products, including AdWords, were responsible for at least 96% of Google's $29.3 billion revenues last year.

Moving forward, one of the biggest question remains: What is Google's social strategy? High-profile product releases (and failures) like Google Wave and Google Buzz come to mind, leading some critics to believe that "social" just isn't in Google's DNA. Much more recently, it launched the "+1" button, the equivalent of Facebook's Like button. "+1" is currently in limited release and only applies to search results at the moment, but will eventually let users to give the thumbs-up to search results, too.

"I've heard that before," Wojcicki says. "I've also heard advertising isn't in our DNA. That's not true. Or that display advertising isn't in our DNA. That's also clearly that's not true. This is such a fast moving market and every company has to be able to move quickly and adapt, and we will."

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JP Mangalindan
JP Mangalindan
Writer, Fortune

JP Mangalindan is a San Francisco-based writer at Fortune, covering Silicon Valley. Since joining in 2010, he has written on a wide array of topics, from the turnaround of eBay to the evolution of net neutrality. A graduate of Fordham University, Mangalindan has also written for GQ, Popular Science, and Entertainment Weekly.

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