Google Stock Split Angers Investors

Larry Page and Sergey Brin

CBJ – A stock split designed to ensure Google CEO Larry Page and fellow co-founder Sergey Brin retain control of the Internet’s most profitable company could cost Google more than half a billion dollars.

Page, 42, and Brin, 41, have maintained control over Google since they started the company in a rented Silicon Valley garage in 1998. Their ideas and leadership have spawned one of the world’s best known and most powerful companies with a market value of $375 billion and a payroll of about 54,000 employees.

Investors have become frustrated with Page’s unwavering belief that Google should be spending billions on projects ranging from driverless cars to diabetes-controlling contact lenses that may take years to pay off and have little – If anything – to do with the company’s main business of search and digital advertising. The big spending is one reason Google’s stock price is about 2% below where it stood at the end of 2013, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 index has climbed 11%.

To maintain the power to drive Google’s direction, Page and Brin initially accumulated virtually all of the company’s class “B” shares, which have 10 votes for each “A” share. The duo, though, worried that control would erode as Google issued more “A” shares to pay for acquisitions and reward other workers. A year ago, Google split its stock to create a new category of “C” stock with no voting power that would allow more Google shares to be issued without undercutting Page and Brin.

Class “A” shareholders were outraged, skewering the manoeuvre as a textbook example of shoddy corporate governance. Google argued there wouldn’t be much difference between the price of “C” and “A” shares because Page and Brin held majority control anyway with the “B” shares. To settle a class-action lawsuit challenging the split, Google agreed to compensate “C” shareholders if the average price of “C” stock fell more than 1% below “A” shares through the first year of trading.

Google’s theory proved wrong, said BGC Financial Partners Colin Gillis. The difference turned out to be between 1% and 2%, though the final gap won’t be announced for up to 30 days as Google works with outside experts to determine the figures under a complex formula.


Paradis and GloverSteve Mahoney