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Google's first Thailand boss explains the 'Googley' way

Ariya Banomyong:

Ariya Banomyong:

Ariya Banomyong, the first country business manager for Google Thailand which set up its first office in Bangkok on July 1, explains the company's corporate culture and its strategic priorities for the Thai market at the "CEO Perspectives" forum held by the College of Management Mahidol University (CMMU) recently. The Nation's Pichaya Changsorn reports.

First of all, says Ariya, Google's culture is "bottom up". "My boss in Singapore hasn't told me what to do. And this is the same everywhere in the world. It's the way we work."

Everything at Google has been created by the engineers and people at Google, who come up with innovations daily, he said. There is also the so-called "dog food" concept, which means staff will be the first to trial every product before it is launched to consumers.

Ariya also shared his own experience in going through the "very meticulous" recruitment process, which included no less than five interview sessions.

"They spent a lot of time getting to know who I was as an individual, not as a professional or [about my] career. Obviously they want to recruit the best talents. [But] the reason is Google is a very flat organisation. Half of staff at my office don't report to me, but report directly to [their bosses] in Singapore. And we still have to be able to work together as a team."

This "no frame" work culture explains why Google has given importance to knowing its job candidate as an individual, he said.

Second, Google embraces a very open culture. "We don't care what's a problem. We care what's a solution."

Third, Google believes in team players. Ariya said he had never found an overconfident person at Google.

Fourth, Google looks for people who are "Googley". The new media company works in a very casual environment. At the Sydney office where Ariya took an orientation course, some staff wore shorts or sales people wore diapers to meet their clients at a consumer product goods company.

The 37-year-old executive explains some of his "Googley" side that might have convinced Google to choose him.

"The interviewer asked me, 'Do you know how many people are making phone calls to each other at this moment?' I replied, I would use the search engine [to find out the answer]. This was, perhaps, the reason why they hired me," said Ariya, smiling.

Ariya said Google kept things very "googley". For example, Gmail was created because some engineers at Google "were just having coffee and came up with an idea to have Gmail".

Ariya also spoke about Google's famous "20-per-cent rule" that encourages its staff to spend 20 per cent of their time on something company-related that interests them personally. This does not have to be a specific project. An engineer, for example, may want to join a sales team for 20 per cent of his working time. At Google's Singapore office, there is a German who has moved to work there for one year just because he wanted to have some experience in Asia. Changing a team member is something easier said than done for many companies where "taking my guys" is typically a contentious issue, he said.

Google was essentially a media company because 98 per cent of its revenues were derived from advertisements. About one-third of the world population or 2 billion people are now online. Thailand is on par with the world's average with about one-third of its population, or about 25 million people, surfing the Internet. The Internet population has been growing rapidly - by a double-digit figure -especially during the past three years.

"Thailand has the highest search inquiries in Southeast Asia and this is an important reason why we opened our office in the country," he said.

Nonetheless, if Google is compared to a shop, there was already a lot of visitors or "traffic", but there were still a shortage of "shops". Online advertisements account for a mere 1 per cent of media spending in Thailand, which totals about Bt100 billion.

Google has set itself four missions for the Thai market. First, make sure everyone throughout Thailand can access relevant information. Second, develop innovations and products for Thailand and Thais. For instance, Google has recently introduced its first TV commercials to the Thai market as part of its bid "to bring people from offline to the online world".

The third aspect is to support the development of more Thai-language content on the Internet. Despite being the 20th largest country by population, Thai content represents just 1 per cent of online Internet content. Last, to assist Thai businesses to establish themselves and grow online. Google has introduced a programme called "Thai businesses go online" for small- and medium-sized enterprises. There were 3,000-4,000 SMEs joining the recent inauguration of the programme at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre.

Ariya also spoke about Google's "users come first" policy. While it seems that every company has also been praised for its customer-centricity, "users come first" is really a fundamental business principle of Google.

"We walk the talk. If you look at our page, it's plain and simple. The philosophy behind the page is that everyone from anywhere in the world, we want you to access the information and get out of the page as fast as possible.

"This is weird compared to others. We give you the search results you want. If you look for cars, you won't see other things which are irrelevant to cars."

Ariya, a former chief commercial officer of diversified Thai telecom giant True, said mobile Internet was a very big trend worldwide with Google searches through mobile devices increasing five fold during the past two years.

A key driver has been the launches of many smart phones such as iPhones, Blackberries and Android phones, which have reshaped the mobile network market from a very price-sensitive one.

Smart phones now account for 70 per cent of the phone market in Singapore and 25 per cent in Thailand, he said.

pichaya@nationgroup.com


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